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Meet Professor Nitya Kallivayalil

Published April 22, 2015 in Faculty

Nitya Kallivayalil is an assistant professor of astronomy. She obtained two NASA grants this year. One grant will allow her to use the Hubble Space Telescope to study the Orphan Stellar Stream, a system in the process of merging with the Milky Way, and whose orbit about the Milky Way therefore allows us to probe the dark matter content of our galaxy. The other grant will enable Kallivayalil to measure the internal kinematics of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way that's also interacting with a companion galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Kerala, India.
Wannabe B-girl. Seriously.
How will you spend this summer?
Summer has turned into an overwhelming confluence of seminars, colloquia, and meetings. I'm most excited about attending a summer program at the Aspen Center for Physics on using dwarf galaxies as cosmological probes.
Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to hear.
See my aforementioned desire to be a bonafide break dancer. I trained as a gymnast as a kid, and I have great respect for dancers.
Who is your greatest hero, and why?
Ooh, that's a tough one. I admire many jazz musicians and am inspired by them on many levels – from their approach to the creative process to their approach to political action. I saw Charles Gayle perform at a recent NYC jazz festival and was completely blown away. He was homeless for approximately 20 years and used to play in the subway, and I knew none of that at the time.
Tell us about your most embarrassing moment.
Hmmm... for better or for worse to those around me, I'm impossible to embarrass.
What is the best place you’ve ever lived or visited, and why?
I love places where there's any threat of bumping into snakes or large cats. I love going to observe at telescopes in Arizona for that reason – there are mountain lions and rattlesnakes. I have yet to see either....
Thinking about the role of technology in education, what will the U.Va. learning experience be like in 2030?
Many astronomers at U.Va. have been integral to the success of all-sky surveys that have really changed the way we do astronomy, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is the astronomical community’s next generation survey facility. Over half of the entire sky will be visited 1000 times over its 10-year lifetime. Data will begin to flow in approximately 2020, will be accessible to anyone at a US institution, and will total about 100 PB in volume! Doing science with this kind of data volume is going to be a huge challenge, and approaches to this will be part of the U.Va. classroom.
What have you most enjoyed most about Charlottesville and U.Va. so far?
I love spring in Charlottesville!
If money were no object, what else would you like to pursue?
I would have been a gymnast, forced to retire by 20, and then tinkered with various science experiments in my garage.
What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?
Take a class on databases! And if you do well in it, come see me.

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