Carnegie Mellon University
June 08, 2022

Physics’ Yueying Ni Receives Berry Research Award

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Yueying Ni, a Ph.D. candidate in the physics department, has received the Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award for her accomplishments while developing cosmological simulations to study supermassive black holes.

“I'm very grateful that I have had the opportunity to check out this exciting frontier in research with my advisor, Tiziana Di Matteo,” said Ni.

Supermassive black holes are extremely rare in the early universe, with one in a billion chances of occurring in a galaxy. By investigating the formation mechanism of those extreme objects, Ni hopes that she can gain better understanding of what extreme initial conditions of the universe can incur those first supermassive black holes. 

“Supermassive black holes are the one of the most mysterious, intriguing objects in the early universe,” said Ni. “They are also very important regulators for galaxy formation, and it's crucial to understand how they co-evolve with their host galaxies.”

Ni has developed one of the largest cosmological simulations in her field, focusing on studying the growth and assembly history of the supermassive black holes and their coevolution with galaxies over the cosmic history.

Based on her research, Ni has been able to find some of the conditions that are necessary to form supermassive black holes in the very early universe.

“You need a very extreme environment with a very extreme high initial density peak that's able to grow and form large structures very early, and you need a very compact internal environment to be able to form a very dense gas environment,” said Ni. “You need to have enough material to feed those early conditions and allow them to grow to a very large mass.”

Ni also developed AI-assisted cosmological simulations that use neural networks to model the small-scale physical process in large cosmological simulation. It can greatly reduce the expense of simulations, and it provides a potential solution for the next generation of cosmological simulations that need to cover an even larger dynamic range over many different scales of the universe.

Because of her advancements in astrophysics, Ni has been an author on 15 peer-reviewed publications and a first author on 8 with more papers currently in progress. She has also been awarded multiple fellowships including the McWilliams Graduate Fellowship.

Ni works in the Matteo group run by Tiziana Di Matteo, director of the McWilliams Center for Cosmology and professor of physics. Matteo expressed pride in Ni’s innovations.

“It’s been such a pleasure to work with Yueying over the past five years. She’s developed into an outstanding, trailblazing scientist in her time at CMU,” said Di Matteo. “Yueying is driven and determined, she has the drive to perserve through all setbacks. Her research sits at the exciting interface between numerical astrophysics and the novel science questions that play a fundamental role within the fascinating discovery space of our field. I expect that her future work, as she moves to a prestigious fellowship at Harvard, will continue to have a major impact on the scientific community.”