Desmond Barry Mckernan

Picture of Desmond    McKernan



Office: N-699T

Office Hours:

Phone: +1 (212) 776-6874

Professor Desmond McKernan is known for his research into black holes, and focuses on phenomena including the central engine of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN). As part of this work, Professor McKernan uses X-ray and infrared observations of AGN to constrain models of accretion onto supermassive black holes. He also carries out theoretical studies of the fueling of AGN and is interested in MHD simulations of the central engine. He is part of a team applying a new detector technique to space telescopes in order to image details in AGN.

Professor McKernan is a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, a member of Doctoral Faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center, a member of CUNY Astro and an invited member of the James Webb Space Telescope, Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectograph-Aperture Masking Interferometry (JWST NIRISS-AMI) Working Group. At BMCC, he mentors students in research projects, guiding their analysis of data related to black holes and active galaxies.


Astronomy and astrophysics, especially active galactic nuclei, accretion disks, black holes and other extreme objects, gravitational waves, astro-seismology and high-contrast imaging.


  • M.S. University of Cambridge, UK, Part III Mathematics ,
  • Ph.D. University of Leeds, UK, Theoretical Physics,
  • B.S. University College Dublin, Physics,1993

Courses Taught

Research and Projects

  • NASA Chandra Observations, 2006-7, ‘X-ray Observations of Maffei 1 & 2’, (co-I)
  • CUNY CCRI Sept 09-Jun 10 ‘Understanding accretion flows around black holes’ (co-PI)
  • BMCC Faculty development award Jun 10-Jun 11 ‘Delivering gas to black holes at the heart of galaxies’ (PI)
  • NASA Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis Jan 10-Jan 13 ‘Non-redundant masking on future space telescope for planetary system, star formation and black hole science’ (co-I)
  • CIRG 2015 ‘Finding Intermediate Mass Black Holes in Quasar Disks with Gravitational Microlensing’ McKernan (Co-I), O’Dowd (PI)
  • BMCC Faculty development award Jun 07-Jun 08 ‘Understanding the process of accretion onto black holes’ (PI)
  • NSF PAARE AST-1153335 2012-17 ‘AstroCom NYC: a partnership between CUNY, AMNH & Columbia’ Paglione (PI)
  • BMCC Faculty Development Grant 2013 ‘Resonant Driving of stars off the main sequence by gravitational waves’ (PI)
  • PSC-CUNY July 07- July 08 ‘Taking a local, hot bath: Towards an understanding of the very hot gas in the environment of our Galaxy’ (PI)
  • PSC-CUNY July 09- July 10 ‘Are all active galactic nuclei actually powered by accretion onto supermassive black holes’ (PI)
  • NASA grant 2014-2016 ‘New York Space Grant Community College Partnerships Program’ Paglione (PI)
    Building on the AstroCom NYC program and expanding to other NASA-related STEM fields, focusing on student retention through student research preparation and mentoring.


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  • ‘Active Galactic Nucleus and Quasar Science with Aperture Masking Interferometry on the James Webb Space Telescope’ Ford, K.E.S, McKernan, B., Sivaramakrishnan, A., Martel, A.R., Koekemoer, A., Lafrenière, D., Parmentier, S. , The Astrophysical Journal, 2014, 783, 73
  • ‘Intermediate-mass black holes in AGN discs – II. Model predictions and observational constraints’, McKernan, B., Ford, K.E.S., Kocsis, B., Lyra, W., Winter, L., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2014, 441, 900
  • NIRISS aperture masking interferometry: an overview of science opportunities’ , Artigau, Sivaramakrishnan, A., Greenbaum, A.Z., Doyon, R., Goudfrooij, P., Fullerton, A.W., Lafrenire, D., Volk, K., Albert, L., Martel; ASPIE, 2014
  • ‘Stars as resonant absorbers of gravitational waves’, McKernan, B., Ford, K.E.S., Kocsis, B., Haiman, Z., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2014, 445, L74
  • ‘Detection of radial velocity shifts due to black hole binaries near merger’, McKernan, B. & Ford, K.E.S., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2015, 425, L1
  • ‘Ripple effects and oscillations in the broad Fe Kα line as a probe of massive black hole mergers’, McKernan, B., Ford, K.E.S., Kocsis, B., Haiman, Z., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2013, 432, 1468
  • ‘Migration Traps in Disks around Supermassive Black Holes’, Bellovary, J. M., Mac Low, M.-M., McKernan, B., Ford, K.E.S., The Astrophysical Journal, 2016, 819, L17
  • ‘On the resonant detonation of sub-Chandrasekhar mass white dwarfs during binary inspiral’, McKernan, B. & Ford, K. E. S., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 2016, 463, 2039

Honors, Awards and Affiliations

  • 2013-2015: Kavli Scholar, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, UC Santa Barbara
  • 1994-1998 William Wright Smith Scholarship in Theoretical Physics, University of Leeds UK
  • 2015: CUNY Chancellor’s Research Fellowship
  • 1993 Thomas E. Nevin Medal & Prize, University College Dublin, Ireland
  • 1993 Robert Gardiner Memorial Scholarship, University of Cambridge, UK
  • 1993 Travelling Studentship in Experimental Physics, National University of Ireland, Ireland
  • 2017: CUNY Chancellor’s Research Fellowship

Additional Information