MIT Kavli Institute Directory

Anna Frebel

Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics Faculty

After studying physics in Germany, Anna Frebel received her PhD from the Australian National University's Mt. Stromlo Observatory in 2006, advised by Prof. John E. Norris. For her work on " Abundance Analysis of Bright Metal-Poor Stars from the Hamberg/ESO Survey ", Dr. Frebel was awarded the 2007 Charlene Heisler Prize (for the best Australian astronomy PhD thesis of 2006). She then received the WJ McDonald Postdoctoral Fellowship which took her to Austin, TX (2006-2008) before taking up the Clay Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in early 2009. She was awarded the 2009 Ludwig-Biermann young astronomer award of the German Astronomical Society as well as the 2010 Annie Jump Cannon Award of the American Astronomical Society. In early 2012 Dr. Frebel joined the MIT physics faculty as Assistant Professor.


In the news --


December 3, 2015 -- MIT News 3Q: Anna Frebel on searching for the oldest stars. New book details astronomers’ hunt for clues to the early universe.
Anna Frebel has unearthed some of the oldest stars in the universe, meticulously extricating them from the billions of stellar grains in the sky. By determining the chemical composition of these ancient stars, she hopes to reconstruct a picture of the cosmic environment in the earliest moments of the universe. Read the entire story on MIT News.

July 1, 2014 -- Appointed Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Professorship (see MIT News)

May 1, 2014 -- A “wimpy” dwarf fossil galaxy reveals new facts about early universe.  Faintest galaxy ever detected illuminates unusual aspects of the universe’s early evolution. See MIT News and Professor Frebel's website for additional information about this discovery.

March 25, 2013 -- Received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for her proposal: The origin of the metal-poor halo of the Milky Way. Professor Frebel's proposal has three specific goals: (1) to perform stellar archaeology, giving us new constraints on the major physical processes that drove early star formation; (2) to perform dwarf-galaxy archaeology, allowing us to better understand galaxy formation; and (3) to determine the role of metal-poor stars as tracers of the accretion history of the Milky Way halo.  The project begins on July 1, 2013.


Research interests: 

Professor Frebel's research is about the oldest, most metal-poor stars, stellar archaeology, nuclear astrophysics, formation of the Milky Way, near-field cosmology, the early universe, cosmological simulations. Her interests include the chemical and physical conditions of the early Universe, and how old, metal-deficient stars can be used to obtain constraints on the first stars and initial mass function, supernova yields and stellar nucleosynthesis. She is best known for her discoveries and subsequent spectroscopic analyses of the most metal-poor stars and how these stars can be employed to uncover information about the early Universe. By now, she has expanded her work to include observations of faint stars in the least luminous dwarf galaxies to obtained a more comprehensive view of how the Milky Way with its extended stellar halo formed. She carries out her observational research on old stars using the 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile through high-resolution optical spectroscopy.

Recently, Professor Frebel also started a large supercomputing project to simulate the formation and evolution of large galaxies like the Milky Way in a cosmological context. The N-body dark matter halos will ultimately help her trace the cosmological path of the oldest stars from their birth in the early universe until their arrival in the Milky Way halo through various merger events. This huge data set will also enable to quantify the breadth of galaxy formation and the abundance of substructure of large galaxies, among many other things.

Honors and awards: 

July 1, 2014 -- appointed Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Professorship (see MIT News)

March 25, 2013 -- National Science Foundation CAREER Award for her proposal: The origin of the metal-poor halo of the Milky Way.