Toward physically-predictive modeling of massive black hole growth and feedback in galaxy formation

Project: Research project

Project Details


Observations reveal close connections between galaxies and massive central black holes (BHs). However, the formation of massive BHs, how they grow, and how they affect galaxy evolution via feedback remain poorly understood due to the large dynamic range and diverse physical processes involved. Fundamental advances in our understanding of gas transport from galactic scales into galactic nuclei by gravitational torques and in observations of galaxy-scale winds driven by active galactic nuclei (AGN) are transforming our understanding of BH growth and feedback, and are enabling definitive progress in answering these questions.
We propose a multi-scale modeling program that builds on these breakthroughs. We will begin by performing ultra-high resolution simulations (down to 0.01 pc) of BH growth and feedback in galaxies and galactic nuclei. Our simulations will include an explicit model for stellar feedback that self-consistently produces a multiphase interstellar medium and star-formation driven outflows. We will use these simulations to study the physics of BH accretion and the interaction of wide-angle AGN-driven outflows in a representative set of model galaxies, including the effects of AGN on gas and star formation, and to calibrate AGN fueling and feedback models for use in cosmological simulations.
We will then implement BHs in cosmological simulations (1-100 pc resolution) that will allow us to investigate the origin of massive BHs (seed models and the need for super-Eddington accretion), the emergence of galaxy-BH scaling relations, the role of AGN feedback in quenching star formation in massive galaxies, and the effects of AGN outflows on halo gas.
Our systematic approach, building up from small to larger scales, will enable us to resolve the main uncertainties of previous simulations of BHs on galaxy and cosmological scales; early results from our study already suggest very different scenarios for BH growth and AGN feedback relative to previous calculations based on (unresolved) Bondi accretion and thermal feedback. To maximize the impact of our simulations, radiative transfer calculations which will allow us to directly test our results with a wealth of current and future observations will be tightly incorporated in our research program.
Effective start/end date8/1/157/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (AST-1517491)

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