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Best Early Career Researcher in Theoretical Astrophysics

Dr. Michela Mapelli

Michela Mapelli studied Physics at the University of Milano Bicocca (1998-2002), where she received her Master degree in February 2003, with a Thesis on 'Four-body interactions in globular clusters'. In October 2006, she received her PhD at SISSA, with a Thesis on ‘Relic signatures of reionization sources', for which she was awarded both the Gratton Prize 2007 and the Tacchini prize 2007. In 2007, she became postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where she studied the formation of giant low-surface brightness galaxies. She was awarded there the prestigious ‘Forschungskredit’ fellowship in 2008 before receiving an independent postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Milano Bicocca in 2009. In August 2011, she started a permanent research position at INAF – Padova Astronomical Observatory, where she created her independent research team.

Michela Mapelliʼs main scientific achievements of the last five years are her studies on the formation of massive stellar black holes from the collapse of metal-poor stars and her contribution to understanding star formation in the Galactic centre. In 2009, she proposed that black holes of more than 20 and up to 80 solar masses can form in the local universe from the direct collapse of metal-poor stars. This can explain why ultra-luminous X-ray sources (ULXs) occur more frequently in galaxies of low-metallicity, with considerable implications for high-energy astrophysics and the search of gravitational waves. In 2012, she simulated the disruption of a molecular cloud by the tidal shear of the super-massive black hole in the Galactic centre and showed that agaseous disc forms and then fragments into proto-stellar clumps, thus explaining the presence of young, massive stars at the centre of our Galaxy.

The work of Michela Mapelli has been conducted entirely in Europe. After graduating in 2006 at SISSA (Trieste), she developed the model of massive stellar black holes during the post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and then at the University of Milano Bicocca, Milan, Italy (2009–2011). Since 2011 she is Researcher at INAF – Padova Astronomical Observatory, Italy, where she has continued investigating massive stellar black holes, and started working on the Galactic centre.