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Career Profile

Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo (she/her)

Astrophysicist and Associate professor
Université de Montréal
ulie Hlavacek-Larrond headshot
ulie Hlavacek-Larrond headshot
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I study black holes, which I think are the most fascinating objects in the Universe!

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Calgary, Alberta, and grew up in Quebec.

I now live in: I now live in Montreal, Quebec.

I completed my training/education at:  After completing a bachelor's of science and master's degree in astrophysics at the Université de Montréal, I obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Cambridge in 2012. This was followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University as a NASA Einstein Fellow.

What I do at work

Contrary to what their name suggests, black holes are not empty space. They are the most powerful and fascinating objects in the Universe. Black holes are so powerful that nothing can escape them, not even light.

As a Canada Research Chair, the goal of my work is to track down and understand the most massive black holes in the Universe. These are the titans amongst the giants. More specifically, my goal is to understand the impact these objects have on their surroundings. This will help us understand the role they play in shaping the properties of galaxies throughout cosmic time.

To do my work, I use observations from the world's largest telescopes. This includes the Hubble, Gemini, KECK, JVLA and Chandra. These observations allow us to create images of areas of space. Once we have these observations, we work to figure out what the data is telling us. To do this, my team and I use a novel and multidisciplinary approach.  This approach involves using our knowledge of astrophysics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to uncover the physics hidden in these images.

My career path is

I always really enjoyed the beauty of mathematics, as well as science in general. It wasn’t until my last year of high school that I discovered the fascinating side of physics thanks to an Expo-sciences project I worked on. I discovered at this moment that teleportation (e.g. Beam me up, Scotty!) was not science fiction. I learned that it actually existed and that researchers in physics were working to make teleportation a reality. This is when I realized that I had found my calling: I wanted to study physics. Later on, through summer internships and a fascinating press release from NASA about black holes, I realized that I wanted to specialize in the most extreme and fascinating objects in our Universe, black holes.

I am motivated by

What do I most enjoy in my work? Being a researcher! In all honesty, when I was growing up, I had no idea that I would one day become a researcher. In fact, I did not really understand what a “researcher” did day to day. It was only at the university level, through summer internships, that I discovered the fascinating world of research.

Research is like a giant board game or like an “Escape room” where you have to find and piece together different clues. These clues help you decipher the code that will allow you to get to the next level. In astronomy, we use observations from telescopes that we have to decipher and piece together. These observations shape our understanding of the objects we study. To top it off, we have the chance to study the most fascinating objects in the cosmos! This is what I enjoy the most about my work. I also enjoy mentoring students and helping them discover the world of research and the mysteries of our Universe.

How I affect peoples’ lives

I am an explorer of the cosmos, daring to adventure into the most extreme unknown, black holes. My research helps shape our understanding of humanity and its place in the universe.

Outside of work I

I am deeply passionate about the outdoors, whether it’s camping with my kids, trekking or mountaineering. I am also passionate about arts and crafts – quilting being my newest found hobby.

My advice to others

Don't be afraid of challenges and failures along the road! Failures are part of the equation in life. They give you the opportunity to learn and become better.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Geography
  • Math
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
  • Technology
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Always wanted to be outside
  • Liked helping people
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Was motivated by success
  • Wanted to be in charge
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Liked reading
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Wasn't sure what I wanted to do
  • Learned best "by doing"

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