Rachel Bezanson (University of Pittsburgh)
Massive galaxies reside in the densest and oldest regions of the Universe, yet we are only beginning to understand their formation history. Once thought to be relics of a much earlier time, the most massive local galaxies are red and dead elliptical galaxies, with little ongoing star formation or organized rotation. In the last decade, observations of their assumed progenitors have demonstrated that the evolutionary histories of massive galaxies have been far from static. Instead, billions of years ago, massive galaxies looked completely different – only changing and growing by interacting with, tearing apart, and eventually devouring their neighbors! I will discuss on-going observational studies of the structure, dynamics, and compositions of massive galaxies in the very distant Universe. Finally, I will outline prospects for further understanding of the history of these intriguing objects with next generation observatories and instruments.
Rachel Bezanson is an observational astronomer and Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose research focuses on the evolution of massive galaxies throughout cosmic time. She is interested in understanding how and when galaxies form, how star-forming galaxies turn off – or “quench” – their star-formation, and the physical processes that drive the evolution of early galaxies into the galaxy populations observed in the local Universe. Her research relies on a variety of ground and space-based telescopes. She has been involved with a number of large galaxy surveys spanning from the local Universe to a few billion years after the Big Bang. Dr. Bezanson is a Survey Scientist for the LEGA-C (Large Early Galaxy Astrophysics Census) ESO Public Spectroscopic Survey, which is an extraordinarily deep spectroscopic survey of ~3000 galaxies at a lookback time equal to half of the age of the Universe. She is also actively involved in planning for the Subaru PFS (Prime Focus Spectrograph) Galaxy Evolution spectroscopic survey of distant galaxies and looks forward to using the James Webb Space Telescope. Dr. Bezanson grew up in Colorado and did her undergraduate studies at Barnard College. After college, she taught high school physics and astronomy in Brooklyn, NY, and later earned her PhD at Yale University. After graduate school, Dr. Bezanson took a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship to the University of Arizona and held an H.N. Russell Fellowship at Princeton University before joining the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2017.