Meet astronomy and astrophysics student, Gourav Khullar

May 22, 2020

Originally published 5/22/20; updated 10/24/22

Gourav Khullar

Gourav Khullar was born in Firozepur, a small town in Punjab, India. His father was a dentist in the Armed Forces, which meant he had to move to a different city or town every couple of years. Prior to coming to UChicago, he was a Master’s student at the University of Cambridge, U.K. Before that, he spent four years in New Delhi pursuing an undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. We interviewed him about his experiences below.

Update 10/24/22

When did you graduate from UChicago? What are you doing now? What are your future plans?

I defended my PhD dissertation in May 2022, and started a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh in September 2022 (I am currently a Samuel P. Langley PITT PACC Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at U.Pittsburgh). I am interested in pursuing an independent research program within the US in the next few years, and pursuing teaching as well. 

Are there any updates to what you studied and researched during your time at UChicago?

As part of my dissertation, I studied galaxies that live in gravitationally bound structures called galaxy clusters, as well as distant systems that we observe via a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. In my postdoctoral fellowship, I am aiming to extend that work by studying these distant magnified and distorted "lensed" galaxies with the space telescope JWST, which hopefully allows me to peek into the inner structures of these early-formed galaxies.

Is there anything new that you’re proud of accomplishing at UChicago since we last interviewed you?

Since 2020, I have been fortunate to join some new collaborations across the US, and have been able to conduct studies on physical processes in bright and massive galaxies with senior astronomers and my students alike. Specifically, I was very excited to hear that our team received substantial telescope time on the newly launched JWST to study the physics of several lensed galaxies across cosmic time.

Original 5/22/20

What have you been studying or researching as part of your program?

I work on multi-wavelength characterization of member galaxies in distant massive galaxy clusters. I study them by synthesizing stellar populations in these galaxies and modeling the observations from these galaxies, as well as distant objects that are gravitationally lensed by intervening galaxies and clusters. My advisor, Prof. Mike Gladders, and I are part of the South Pole Telescope (SPT) Clusters collaboration.

Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

I applied to the Astrophysics PhD program here in 2015 primarily to work on large sky surveys that discover and study billions of galaxies in the Universe. UChicago is one of the hubs for both the Dark Energy Survey (DES) and the South Pole Telescope (SPT) surveys, projects that I have been affiliated with during my time here. My current work involves performing detailed studies of galaxies discovered by SPT, using the Magellan Telescopes in Chile, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.

One of the first projects I worked on at UChicago was to study the dynamical and chemical properties of the most distant galaxy clusters. The photons we detect from these objects were emitted when the Universe was one third of its current age. I, along with our collaboration, was really excited to put this challenging and fulfilling work out in the world.

I am also proud of the equity and inclusion group, IDEA (An Inclusive, Diverse and Equitable Astronomy), that we started as early career scientists in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics in 2017. This group, which meets every other week, has created a community of PhD students and postdoctoral fellows that does peer-education in our community and grassroots work to improve department climate from the bottom up.

What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom and lab?

Outside of my teaching and outreach work, I spend my time with non-fiction books, my favorite football team, Chelsea’s, matches on TV (not calling it soccer, sorry), and Hindi and Punjabi music.

What are your plans post-UChicago?

I would like to continue working in the field of astronomy and astrophysics as a postdoctoral fellow and teacher.

What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?

I think my research has only increased in value by the empathetic support of my advisor and collaborators, fellow graduate, and undergraduate students here. Moreover, the access to the Magellan Telescopes in Chile has been a remarkable and unique experience for me in my PhD journey—something that is possible only in a handful of institutions across the world. 

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