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Barrington High School grad discovers galaxy’s youngest black hole

LaurLopez

Laura Lopez

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IN PROFILE

Laura Lopez

Reading: The ‘Game of Thrones’ series. I’m on the fourth book.

Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption” is my favorite. I saw it at the Catlow in Barrington. I also like “When Harry Met Sally.”

Music: I like a lot of indie rock, like “The White Panda” and “Frank Turner.”

Vacation destination: I try to go to new places. I’ve been to 48 states. I went to Alaska last year and it was great.

Sports team: I would say the Cubs and the Bears. I definitely still have loyalty to the Chicago teams.

Updated: April 8, 2013 6:11AM



BARRINGTON — Barrington native Laura Lopez has amassed quite the resume since graduating from Barrington High School in 2000.

Lopez, a NASA Einstein Fellow who currently attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is one of the authors of a recent paper describing the discovery of a rare explosion that may have created the youngest known black hole in the galaxy. The paper was recently published in “Astrophysics Journal.”

In 2011, Lopez earned a doctorate degree in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California-Santa Cruz. Prior to that, Lopez earned her bachelor’s in physics from MIT in 2004.

Q: What inspired you to study astronomy and astrophysics?

A: I got interested in astronomy when I was in fifth grade at Hough Street School. The teacher there took us out stargazing. I decided then that I wanted to be an astronomer.

Q: What exactly did you discover that is detailed in the “Astrophysics Journal” paper?

A: This recent discovery is of the youngest black hole we know about in our galaxy. We figured that this particular supernova is about 1,000 years old. What stood out was that this supernova hole was not symmetrical, it was what we call a jet-driven explosion. After an explosion, what’s left over is either a neutron star, which emits lots of light, or a black hole. Because there was no light, we determined that it was a black hole.

Q: What got you interested in supernovas?

A: I got interested in supernovas because I like things that are extreme. My first year of graduate school, there was a press release on this particular supernova and how it was really strange. At MIT, we got to do a deep observation and we were able to see the supernova in detail. We were able to determine the age by the distance from which the elements traveled since the explosion.

Q: What are your future career goals?

A: Right now, I’m post-doctorate at MIT. I’d like to be an astronomy or physics professor at a university. That way, I could teach and continue doing research.

Q: What is your proudest moment or greatest achievement?

A: I was involved in one other big discovery when I was in school in California and this one kind of rivals that. This previous one was related to the shape of another supernova. There are two types of supernovas and you can tell by the shape. This last discovery is a big discovery, too.

Q: How long did you live in Barrington?

A: I lived in Barrington my whole life, near the Barrington Public Library.

Q: What about Barrington makes you proud?

A: I think it prepared me really well for college. Some of the classes I took in high school were actually harder than my college classes.

Q: What was your favorite community event in Barrington?

A: We always went to see the fireworks and saw the 4th of July parade.

Q: What was your favorite restaurant or entertainment venue in town?

A: My favorite place that’s still open is The Pizza Factory. I like their thin crust pizza.

Q: If you were mayor for the day, what would you do?

A: There’s nothing obvious to me. I think it’s a great place to live.

Q: What has changed in Barrington since you grew up there?

A: The town got a lot bigger. The year I went to middle school was the year they opened Prairie Middle School, so that was a big change. I also think more businesses have opened.



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