Super-massive black holes are found at the center of most local massive galaxies. Several observations imply that some of them were already in place at the center of their galaxies when the Universe was very young, a mere 10% of its current age. These cosmic behemoths weighed up to 10 billion times the mass of the Sun and shined with the brightness of tens of thousands of galaxies. The formation of super-massive black holes in the very early Universe is one of the most intriguing mysteries of modern cosmology, since they need a very long time to grow up. How did they form so quickly? We think they formed from the growth of black hole “seeds”, smaller compact objects that grew rapidly from the accretion of gas. While much progress has been made in understanding their formation and growth, their observational signatures remain largely unexplored. I will present a pioneering photometric method to identify black hole seed candidates in very deep images of the sky. This method, which relies on combined infrared and X-ray observations, will be especially important following the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble. To add to the mystery, I will also discuss the possible detection of an accreting black hole seed called CR7. To date, these objects are the main suspects in our hunt for the first black holes in the Universe.
Summertime lunch talks for undergraduate students doing research on campus.