CLEMSON – Astrophysicist Lea Marcotulli, whose research extends to the farthest reaches of the universe, will tell others about her discoveries when her previously recorded speech airs on the virtual TEDxGreenville 2020 conference on November 6. The TEDx Talk was originally scheduled to be given in-person on March 28, but the event was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marcotulli is a sixth-year graduate student in the College of Science’s Department of Physics and Astronomy who has done extensive research into black holes, focusing on how they form, where to find them, and what they look like. The supermassive black holes that she will describe in her talk were formed about 13 billion years ago.

Lea Marcotulli is a sixth-year graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Image Credit: Special to the College of Science

Marcotulli recorded her talk, which is titled “The Biggest, Baddest Black Holes,” on September 10 in Greenville without an audience. Normal TEDx conferences in Greenville are in-person and sell out fast, with invited speakers taking the stage in front of about 300 people. But because of the new online format of this year’s event, Marcotulli prerecorded her talk in a room containing about 10 crew members and a few other bystanders.

“I was on the stage looking at no one but the crew members,” said Marcotulli, who completed her undergraduate studies in astrophysics at the University of Bologna, Italy, before coming to Clemson. “It was a little weird, but it was also nice, because the people who were there were interested in my talk. So, it didn’t feel like I was talking to no one.”

Despite the unusual circumstances, Marcotulli was able to make the most out of the experience.

“I would make a joke and then there would not be a big reaction because most of the people listening were focusing on the technical parts,” Marcotulli said. “I was told to pretend that there was an audience, so I had to look around and pretend that I was talking to hundreds of people.”

The exact schedule for the TEDx conference has not yet been released, but Marcotulli’s speech will be aired sometime during the evening of November 6.

“I’m glad that it is still going on even though it is virtual,” Marcotulli said. “I was thinking that they were going to cancel it this year and wait for next year.”

Marcotulli’s mentor said that being chosen to speak at a TEDx conference is a high honor.

“Being selected requires perseverance, fantastic communication skills and, in particular, sincere passion about science,” said Marco Ajello, an associate professor in physics and astronomy. “Lea has all these qualities, and it is great that such an endeavor has been taken on by one of our own graduate students. I’m sure she will inspire a lot of people with her TEDx Talk – and I look forward to it very much.”

The last TEDx speaker from the College of Science was professor Apparao Rao, who is a “highly accomplished and revered scientist,” Ajello added.

Now, it’s Marcotulli’s turn to shine in the spotlight.

“I would love for people to get excited about astrophysics and to understand that what we do is important for everyone,” she concluded.