College of Science; OUR Clemson

POSTPONED: Clemson astrophysics grad student Marcotulli to give talk at TEDx Greenville on March 28


 All Clemson University events have been suspended until April 5. Events scheduled for April 6 and beyond will continue to be evaluated, and any changes will be communicated as soon as decisions are made. 
Lea Marcotulli’s talk has been postponed until Sept. 11, 2020.
Lea Marcotulli stands near telescopes in Hawaii
Lea Marcotulli stands at the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea at sunset. At left is the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility where she recently took observations of supermassive black holes.

Lea Marcotulli stands at the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea at sunset. At left is the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility where she recently took observations of supermassive black holes.
Courtesy of Brian Cabreir

CLEMSON – Astrophysicist Lea Marcotulli, whose research extends to the farthest reaches of the universe, will become a star on stage when she speaks at the TEDx Greenville 2020 conference on Saturday, March 28.

The all-day event held at the Greenville ONE Center will feature 19 speakers and take audiences on an “intellectual and emotional roller coaster with presenters that delight, challenge, question, answer, disrupt, and enlighten.”

The annual event sells out every year, so it’s important to purchase tickets early if you are interested in attending.

Marcotulli, a fifth-year graduate student in the College of Science’s department of physics and astronomy, will give her talk at 1:48 p.m. It will be titled “The Biggest, Baddest Black Holes.”

“The talk will present the big picture of what these supermassive black holes are, how they form, where we find them, and what they look like,” said Marcotulli, who completed her undergraduate studies in astrophysics at the University of Bologna, Italy, before coming to Clemson. “My goal is to transmit my enthusiasm to the public and make people understand why it is so important – and so cool – to chase these powerhouses.”

Headshot of Lea Marcotulli
Astrophysicist Lea Marcotulli is a fifth-year graduate student at Clemson.

Since becoming a scientist a few years ago, Marcotulli has been studying supermassive black holes that were formed about 13 billion years ago when the universe was young. She said that these cosmic monsters can shine with the intensity of 100 billion suns.

“They are able to launch particles at nearly the speed of light creating intense jets of radiation that traverse the universe and reach us at the highest energies, i.e. X and gamma-rays,” Marcotulli explained. “I use both satellites in space and telescopes on Earth to find them and to study the complicated processes that occur at their cores.”

Marcotulli was lured to Clemson by her mentor Marco Ajello, an associate professor in physics and astronomy who once led an international team that measured all of the starlight ever produced by the observable universe. The collaborative research was published in the prestigious journal Science in November 2018.

“During my last year at Bologna, I was trying to find out information about the possibilities of graduate studies abroad, and a professor of mine knew that Dr. Ajello was looking for graduate students in Clemson,” Marcotulli said. “Inspired by his research and by the idea of going to study in the United States, I applied and was accepted. I didn’t realize then how much this decision would change my life. And now, five years later, I am so happy that I chose to come to Clemson.”

Marcotulli first applied to become a speaker for the 2020 TEDx Greenville event last year. The intense selection phase spanned four months before she finally received the good news that she had been accepted.

Milky Way galaxy
The Milky Way gleams in the dark night sky in this photograph taken from the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

“The career of a scientist in general is to not only do your research as best as you can, but also to effectively communicate it to as many people as possible,” Marcotulli said. “I love the outreach part of my career. If I can convince even a small audience of non-experts that what I do is important and worthwhile, I will consider this a great success. I am beyond thrilled to participate in this incredible event, and it will certainly help me in my future career by showing that I can communicate my research and my passion to a broad and varied audience.”

Ajello encouraged Marcotulli to submit her application, and he is understandably proud of his protégé for her achievement.

“It’s very difficult to be selected for a TEDx Talk. The last TEDx speaker from the College of Science was Professor Apparao Rao, who is a highly accomplished and revered scientist,” Ajello concluded. “Being selected requires perseverance, fantastic communicating skills and, in particular, sincere passion about science. Lea has all these qualities, and it is great that such an endeavor is taken on by one of our own graduate students. I’m sure she will inspire a lot of people with her TEDx Talk – and I look forward to it.”

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