Laura Ferrarese

Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
Principal Research Officer, National Research Council of Canada
Adjunct Associate Professor, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, University of Victoria

5071 West Saanich Road
Victoria BC V9E 2E7, Canada
Phone: +1 (250) 363-3460

Ph.D.: Physics, 1996, Johns Hopkins University, USA

Former Appointments:

  • Interim Director, Gemini Observatory (2017-2018)
  • Associate Professor, Rutgers University (2000-2004)
  • NASA LTSA Fellow, University of California Los Angeles (1999-2000)
  • Hubble Fellow, California Institute of Technology (1996-1999)

Click here for a complete Curriculum Vitae.



Refereed Publications. All my refereed publications can be accessed through the ADS. These publications have collected over 24,000 citations, for an h-index of 68.

Research Interests. Using the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to peer at the centres of nearby galaxies, I published some of the first detections of supermassive black holes (SBH) in galactic nuclei (Ferrarese et al. ApJ 470, 444), culminating with the realization that SBHs play critical role in the cosmic growth and evolution of galaxies. The discovery paper — Ferrarese & Merritt 2000, ApJL, 539 9 — is the most highly cited astrophysics paper in 2000, and the 69th most highly cited astrophysics paper ever.[showhide type=”post” more_text=”Show More..” less_text=”Show less..” hidden=”yes”]

HST data has also been critical in studying the structure of galaxies near and far. As a founding member of the HST/ACS Virgo and Fornax Cluster Surveys, I used the structural properties of galaxies to challenge the then accepted paradigm that giant and dwarf galaxies belong to disjointed populations (Ferrarese et al. 2005, ApJ, 164, 334), and to demonstrate that the fundamental connection between SBHs and their host galaxies extends to compact stellar nuclei (Ferrarese et al., 2006, ApJ, 165, 17). To further investigate these issues, I initiated and led the CFHT Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey (NGVS), based on which our team discovered and studied, for the first time beyond the local volume, faint galaxies whose properties are key to test and refine cosmological models and the properties of dark matter (Ferrarese et al. 2016, ApJ, 824, 10). I am as proud of the NGVS papers I have published as I am of the fact that sixteen students and thirteen postdoctoral fellows are or have been involved, to various degrees, in the analysis and interpretation of NGVS data.

Finally, as part of the Hubble Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale, I have worked to calibrate distances to nearby galaxies (e.g. Ferrarese et al. 2000, ApJ, 529, 745), ultimately leading to measuring the Hubble Constant and the age of the universe with a then unprecedented 10% precision. The paper summarizing the Key Project results (Freedman et al. 2001, ApJ, 553, 47) is the 98th most cited in astronomy, ever.


Technical Projects

I am currently involved in the science teams for the NIRCam and NIRISS instruments on the soon to be launched James Webb Space Telescope, and I am part of the science team and of the management group for the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE).[showhide type=”post2″ more_text=”Show More..” less_text=”Show less..” hidden=”yes”] In 2010-2011 I was Mission Chief Scientist for “High-z” a proposed NASA Explorer Class Mission led by Johns Hopkins University. This role required not only to coordinate the efforts of the science team and focus them into a coherent and compelling document, but also to work with the engineering team to flow the science objectives into mission requirements.


Administration and Community Service

The sense of achievement derived from concluding a scientific investigation — from obtaining the data to publishing a paper — pales in comparison to the reward of improving the environment in which others can thrive.[showhide type=”post3″ more_text=”Show More..” less_text=”Show less..” hidden=”yes”] In my current and past roles as President of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA), Vice-President of the International Astronomical Union, or member of the Board of Directors for CASCA, AURA, ACURA, and CFHT, my main goal is and always has been to allow the astronomy community, and the younger generations in particular, to have the tools, resources and opportunities to realize their scientific ambitions and be recognized for their achievements.

As Interim Director of the Gemini Observatory, I worked with the Gemini Directorate and the Gemini User community to establish key priority for the Observatory, ultimately resulting in a US$26M allocation from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to transform Gemini North into the world’s premier facilities for high resolution Adaptive Optics imaging and spectroscopy. I also worked extensively to expand the Gemini international partnership, signing Korea to a full partnership, and Ben Gurion University in Israel to a Limited Term collaboration. An unanticipated, but highly rewarding aspect of my job (based in Hilo, Hawaii) was to interact and work with the Hawaiian community, from school children to government officials, and strive towards mutual understanding and reconciliation. 

Current Roles:

Selected Past Roles:

  • Interim Director, Gemini Observatory (2017-2018)
  • NSF’s NOIRLab Management Oversight Council (2019-2020)
  • Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Board of Directors (2015-2017)
  • Chair, AURA Oversight Council for Gemini (AOC-G) (2015-2017)
  • President, Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) (2012-2014).
  • Chair, CASCA/ACURA TMT Planning Committee (2014-2015).
  • Chair, IAU National Committee for Astronomy (2012-2014).
  • co-Chair, Coalition for Canadian Astronomy (2012-2014).
  • Chair, CASCA/CSA’s Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (2009-2012)

Teaching and Mentoring

While on the faculty at Rutgers University, I enjoyed developing and teaching courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level[showhide type=”post4″ more_text=”Show More..” less_text=”Show less..” hidden=”yes”]Since moving to NRC, I have had the opportunity to teach lectures at the University of Victoria, and I have given regular set of undergraduate and graduate lectures at the Universita’ di Padova. I have supervised students at the undergraduate, master and graduate level, as well as postdoctoral fellows.
I also very much enjoy giving public talks. In 2009, I was one of the Galileo Lecturers for the International Year of Astronomy.

lff_NGC4406.NGVS lff_NGC4452.NGVS lff_NGC4477.NGVS lff_NGC4608.NGVS lff_NGC4552.NGVS
Images from the Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey (CFHT/MegaCam)