Graduate Research Spotlight: Harum Ahmed | College of Science
February 5, 2024

Graduate Research Spotlight: Harum Ahmed

Harum Ahmed is a UNT graduate student studying astrophysics under the mentorship of Dr. Ohad Shemmer. She completed her bachelor's degree in physics last May and just finished the first semester of her Ph.D. studies at UNT this past fall. Her research is centered around active galactic nuclei (AGN), specifically focuses on quasars, which are luminous active galaxies with accreting supermassive black holes in their centers.

"My work predominantly involves the observational and computational aspects of astrophysics research. For my Ph.D. thesis, I am delving deeper into analyzing high redshift quasars in the rest-frame ultraviolet-optical band," she explained. "I will be leading all parts related to the observations of these targets using the Gemini Near Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS). This encompasses planning the observations, conducting quality checks, data reduction, and performing spectral measurements."

Her project is a collaborative effort involving many researchers from around the world, highlighting its global nature. Harum says that the potential applications of this work are vast and extend into various realms of extragalactic investigations.

"By extending the Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph - Distant Quasar Survey (GNIRS-DQS), my research will contribute to creating the ultimate benchmark sample of quasars with rest-frame UV-optical spectral properties," she said. "With this project, we will improve black hole mass estimates, accretion rate estimates and derive reliable redshifts for the observed quasars, which will be crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the structure, evolution, and feedback mechanisms among all quasars and their host galaxies."

Since childhood, Harum has been fascinated by the subject of the universe and black holes.

"The allure of astronomy and physics has been my lifelong fascination," she said. "But for a young woman from Pakistan, where opportunities for women in STEM fields are extremely scarce, pursuing a doctoral degree in astrophysics is almost unheard of. This fueled my determination to break barriers and hopefully pave the way for future generations of women in this field."

Now at UNT, Harum says that she is thrilled to be learning from astrophysics experts and she enjoys fostering connections with fellow professionals.

"The presence of distinguished professors such as Dr. Yuan Li and Dr. Shemmer played a significant role in my decision to attend UNT," she said. "Knowing that I could collaborate with experienced and esteemed researchers like them solidified UNT as the ideal institution for me to pursue my astrophysical research ambitions."

Of course, time management and juggling a full load of coursework, research, and writing is a demanding responsibility for any research student, but Harum considers navigating these challenges as part of the adventure, and is grateful to the UNT Physics faculty and staff for their guidance in the process.

"Dr. Shemmer especially has played a pivotal role in guiding and supporting my research as well as academic pursuits," she said. "His mentorship has been instrumental in shaping my journey, as he consistently encourages me to strive for excellence."

Harum presented her most recent work on Broad Absorption Line quasars at the 243rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in New Orleans in January, which she considered a significant milestone in her academic journey. She is also preparing a paper to submit to The Astrophysical Journal this semester and is looking forward to analyzing the first round of observations and data that will launch the start of her Ph.D. project, too.

"While the journey may be tough sometimes, it's important to realize that pursuing research is not just a career choice; it's a passion that brings unparalleled fulfillment," says Harum, who hopes to encourage other students to follow their passions in research and education. "Stay resilient, grind through the challenges, and embrace the fact that, in the end, it will be worth every sacrifice."