Nia Imara

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Nia Imara
Alma materKenyon College
University of California, Berkeley
Known forScience and art
Scientific career
InstitutionsUC Santa Cruz
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
ThesisThe Formation and Evolution of Giant Molecular Clouds (2010)
Doctoral advisorLeo Blitz

Nia Imara is an American astrophysicist, artist, and activist. Imara's scientific work deals with galactic mass, star formation, and exoplanet detection. Imara was the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley[1] and was the inaugural postdoctoral fellow in the Future Faculty Leaders program at Harvard University.[2] In 2020, Imara joined the University of California, Santa Cruz as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Imara was born in East Oakland, Oakland, California and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area.[4] She received her bachelor's degree from Kenyon College in 2003,[5] majoring in mathematics and physics.[4] While at Kenyon College, she competed on the college's swim team.[6] She moved to the University of California, Berkeley for her postgraduate studies, and in 2010 she became the first African-American woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics at University of California, Berkeley.[4] Her dissertation was on The Formation and Evolution of Giant Molecular Clouds and was supervised by Leo Blitz.[7]


From 2014 to 2017, Imara was the inaugural postdoctoral fellow in the Future Faculty Leaders program at Harvard University. Her postdoctoral research focused on giant molecular clouds, the birth sites of stars, and the properties and cosmological effects of galactic and intergalactic dust.[2] She used the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, to conduct her research.[4]

In 2017, she was appointed as the John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow and the Harvard FAS Dean's Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.[8] Imara works with the Banneker Institute at Harvard, and is a member of the Breakthrough Starshot research team.[9][10] Her work investigates the structure and evolution of stellar nurseries in both the Milky Way Galaxy and other galaxies throughout the universe,[11] and she has developed a model that connects galaxy mass, star formation rates and dust temperatures.[12]

In Fall 2020, Imara joined the faculty in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Together with Rosanne Di Stefano, Imara proposed a method for detecting exoplanets in X-ray binary star systems.[13] Imara, Di Stefano, and their other collaborators found evidence, using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, of a potential planet passing in front of a star that is 28 million light-years away in the M51 galaxy.[14] Their findings were published to Nature Astronomy in an October 2021 paper entitled "A possible planet candidate in an external galaxy detected through X-ray transit."[15] If the findings are confirmed, this would represent the first sighting of a planet outside of our Milky Way Galaxy.[16]

Activism & Community Engagement[edit]

Imara is an advocate for equity in STEM. She founded the Equity and Inclusion Journal Club at Harvard University in 2018 which was originally co-organized with Dr. Anna Pancoast.[17] She has visited South Africa and Ghana to teach and advocate in programs designed to increase diversity in astronomy and other STEM areas.[18][19]

In 2020, Imara founded Onaketa, an organization that connects students from underserved communities of color with free math and science tutoring.[20][21]

Imara has described the field of astronomy as a uniquely powerful tool for engaging the general public with, and expanding access to, science: "Everyone’s captivated by astronomy, by the stars, what’s out there in the universe...And so I made a conscious choice a long time ago that I wanted to share my work with the community, with Black folks and other people of color, especially.”[20] Imara recently appeared as herself in the "Age of Stars" episode of the 2021 PBS Nova documentary series "Universe Revealed."[22]


  1. ^ Burt, Cecily (November 4, 2015). "Oakland: Help record your experience with gentrification". The Mercury News. Oakland, CA: Bay Area News Group. Archived from the original on May 3, 2019. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Harvard Future Faculty Leaders Postdoctoral Fellowship". Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  3. ^ Roberson, Stephen (February 22, 2022). "February 22, 2022 - Dr. Nia Imara". National Society of Black Physicists. Retrieved April 29, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c d Kumamoto, Akira Olivia (November 16, 2015). "Nia Imara sheds light on Oakland through art". Oakland North. UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  5. ^ "Before the Stars · Along Middle Path". Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  6. ^ "Nia Imara sheds light on Oakland through art". Oakland North. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  7. ^ Imara, Nia (2010). The Formation and Evolution of Giant Molecular Clouds (Thesis). UC Berkeley.
  8. ^ "John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellows (JHDSF) Program: Current Fellows". President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  9. ^ Sokol, Joshua (August 23, 2016). "Why the Universe Needs More Black and Latino Astronomers". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  10. ^ "Breakthrough Initiatives". Retrieved May 2, 2018.
  11. ^ "about". Retrieved 2020-09-13.
  12. ^ Imara, Nia; Loeb, Abraham; Johnson, Benjamin D.; Conroy, Charlie; Behroozi, Peter (February 8, 2018). "A Model Connecting Galaxy Masses, Star Formation Rates, and Dust Temperatures Across Cosmic Time". The Astrophysical Journal. 854 (1): 36. arXiv:1801.01499. Bibcode:2018ApJ...854...36I. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aaa3f0. ISSN 1538-4357. S2CID 46339810.
  13. ^ Kohler, Susanna (2018-07-20). "Searching for exoplanets around X-ray binaries". AAS Nova. American Astronomical Society. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  14. ^ "Chandra Press Room :: Chandra Sees Evidence for Possible Planet in Another Galaxy :: October 25, 2021". Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  15. ^ Di Stefano, Rosanne; Berndtsson, Julia; Urquhart, Ryan; Soria, Roberto; Kashyap, Vinay L.; Carmichael, Theron W.; Imara, Nia (2021-10-25). "A possible planet candidate in an external galaxy detected through X-ray transit". Nature Astronomy. 5 (12): 1297–1307. doi:10.1038/s41550-021-01495-w. ISSN 2397-3366.
  16. ^ "Astronomers find a potential exoplanet outside the Milky Way galaxy". Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  17. ^ "The Equity and Inclusion Journal Club". President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  18. ^ National Research Council, Policy and Global Affairs, Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Committee on Advancing Institutional Transformation for Minority Women in Academia (2013). Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia: Summary of a Conference. National Academies Press. ISBN 9780309295949. Retrieved 5 May 2019. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ Appah, Samuel Obeng (9 February 2019). "Year of Return: Ghana begins celebration of Black History Month with launch". VoyagesAfriq. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  20. ^ a b "Artist, Activist, and Astrophysicist Nia Imara Keeps Her Eyes on the Sky | Berkeley Arts + Design". Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  21. ^ "Onaketa | About". Onaketa. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  22. ^ "Nova" Universe Revealed: Age of Stars (TV Episode 2021) - IMDb, retrieved 2022-04-29

External links[edit]