The center of the Milky Way contains the densest star cluster our galaxy. It has a mass of over 10 million suns. It also contains a supermassive black hole of 4 million solar-masses. Because this is the closest supermassive black hole, we can study it in more detail than any other. This combination of a crowded stellar environment around a massive black hole makes for an ideal location to study the interaction between stars and black holes. Because our nuclear star cluster is similar to those of other galaxies, studying its origin and evolution will help us understand the formation of the nuclei of galaxies.
The supermassive black hole at the Galactic center can be studied in multiple ways. Some of the methods I use are: (1) through its gravitational effect on stars orbiting it, and (2) through near-infrared light arising from gas falling onto the black hole.
The composition of stars making up the Milky Way nuclear star cluster is complex, as it hosts multiple generations of stars that may have arrived from other parts of the Milky Way. In order to reconstruct the formation history of the nuclear star cluster, I utilize spectroscopy and synthetic spectral grids to differentiate between the different population of stars. The goal is to determine fundamental physical parameters of individual stars such as their effective temperature, surface gravity and elemental abundances.