Neil Gehrels to present Marker Lectures in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Neil Gehrels, an adjunct professor of astronomy and astrophysics at both the University of Maryland and at Penn State University, and chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, will present the Russell Marker Lectures in Astronomy and Astrophysics on March 21 and 22, at the Penn State University Park campus.

The lecture series includes a presentation intended for a general audience, "Black Holes: From Einstein to Gamma Ray Bursts," which will be held at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, in 102 Thomas Building. In the lecture, Gehrels will describe Einstein's theory of general relativity, published in 1916. Gehrels will explain how Einstein's equations predicted that space-time is warped by mass in the universe. Gehrels also will discuss how X-ray telescopes have found strong evidence that black holes exist and are important components of the cosmos. In addition to the public lecture, Gehrels will give two specialized lectures on March 21 and 22. The Marker Lectures are sponsored by the Penn State Eberly College of Science.

Gehrels's research involves building space-flight instruments to observe astronomical objects. The emphasis of his research is on explosive events in the cosmos such as gamma-ray bursts and supernovae. In addition to being an adjunct professor and chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Gehrels is the principal investigator for the Swift satellite, which detects the highest-energy events in the universe, including gamma-ray bursts. Swift is a mission in NASA's Explorer Program and is managed at Goddard. Penn State is the major university partner in Swift, and the Swift Mission Operations Center is located at Penn State, in the Bristol Research Park.

Gehrels has published over 400 papers in the professional scientific literature and over 20 popular articles, and has edited six books on gamma-ray astronomy. He received the National Academy of Sciences Henry Draper medal in 2009, the American Astronomical Society Rossi prize in 2007, and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1993. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Gehrels received a doctoral degree in physics at the California Institute of Technology in 1981. In his graduate research, he worked on the energetic particle detectors on the Voyager spacecraft, which visited the outer members of the solar system. Gehrels's other avocation, in addition to astrophysics, is mountaineering. In 2006, he climbed the Nose Route on El Capitan, a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, in a six-day solo ascent.

The Marker Lectures were established in 1984 through a gift from Penn State Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Russell Earl Marker, whose pioneering synthetic methods revolutionized the steroid-hormone industry and opened the door to the current era of hormone therapies, including the birth-control pill. The Marker endowment allows the Penn State Eberly College of Science to present annual Marker Lectures in astronomy and astrophysics, the chemical sciences, evolutionary biology, genetic engineering, the mathematical sciences and physics.

For more information, contact Peter Meszaros at 814-863-4167 or; David Burrows at; or J. Nousek at For access assistance, contact Laurie Dasher at 814-865-0418 or

Last Updated March 15, 2012