Andrea Ghez is the eighth UCLA faculty member to be named a Nobel Laureate. Photo credit: Elena Zhukova / University of California
Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman from UCLA and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, were today awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Ghez shares half of the award with Reinhard Genzel from UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The Nobel Committee praised her for “the discovery of a supermassive compact object in the center of our galaxy”. The other half of the award went to Roger Penrose of the Oxford University “For discovering that black hole Education is a robust prediction of general relativity. ”
In July 2019, Science magazine published a study by Ghez and her research group that presented the most comprehensive test of Albert Einstein’s iconic general theory of relativity near the monstrous black hole at the center of our galaxy. Although they concluded that “Einstein’s right at least for the moment,” the research group continues to test Einstein’s theory, which they believe cannot fully explain gravity in a black hole.
Ghez studies more than 3,000 stars orbiting the supermassive black hole. Black holes are so dense that nothing can escape their attraction, not even light. The center of the vast majority of galaxies appears to have a supermassive black hole, she said.
“I’m excited and incredibly honored to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics,” said Ghez, director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group. “The research the Nobel Committee is honoring today is the result of a wonderful collaboration between scientists from the UCLA Galactic Center Orbits Initiative and the University of California’s wise investment in the WM Keck Observatory.
“We have state-of-the-art tools and a first-class research team, and this combination is a lot of fun to discover. Our understanding of how the universe works is still so incomplete. The Nobel Prize is fabulous, but we still have a lot to learn. ”
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block praised Ghez for her achievements.
“The UCLA community is extremely proud of Professor Ghez’s accomplishments, including this exceptional honor,” said Block. “We are inspired by their research that unravels the secrets of our universe and its potential to help us better understand the cosmos.”
David Haviland, Chairman of the Nobel Committee on Physics, said: “The discoveries made by this year’s award winners have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. However, these exotic objects still raise many questions that ask for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their internal structure, but also questions about how we can test our theory of gravity under extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole. ”
Ghez and her team directly measured how gravity works near a supermassive black hole – research they call “extreme astrophysics”.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity is the best description of how gravity works. “However, his theory definitely shows vulnerability,” Ghez said in 2019. “[A]At some point we will have to move beyond Einstein’s theory to a broader theory of gravity that explains what a black hole is. ”
Less than two months after its publication in Science, she and her research group reported in the Astrophysical Journal Letters the surprising finding that the supermassive black hole contains an unusually large meal of interstellar gas and dust – and they still don’t understand why.
“We have never seen anything like it in the 24 years we have explored the supermassive black hole,” she said at the time. “It’s usually a pretty quiet, weak black hole on a diet. We don’t know what drives this great festival. ”
In January 2020, her team reported the discovery of a new class of bizarre objects – objects that look like gas and act like stars – in the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive black hole.
Ghez and her team did research at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii. You can see space and time move near the supermassive black hole, which is about 26,000 light years away.
“A measurement of such vital importance requires years of patient observation, made possible by cutting-edge technology,” said Richard Green, director of the National Science Foundation’s Department of Astronomical Sciences, in 2019.
“Andrea is one of our most passionate and tenacious Keck users,” said Hilton Lewis, director of the Keck Observatory, also in 2019. “Her latest groundbreaking research is the culmination of her unwavering commitment over the past two decades to the secrets of the super massive black Hole to decipher in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.”
The National Science Foundation has funded Ghez’s research for the past 25 years. More recently, her research has also been funded by the WM Keck Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Heising-Simons Foundation, Lauren Leichtman and Arthur Levine, and Howard and Astrid Preston.
In 1998, Ghez answered one of the most important questions in astronomy and showed that there is a supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. The question has been the subject of much debate among astronomers for more than a quarter of a century.
A technology that has changed the field
Ghez pioneered a powerful technology called adaptive optics, which corrected the distortion effects of Earth’s atmosphere in real time and opened the center of our galaxy as a laboratory for the study of black holes and their fundamental role in the evolution of the universe. With the adaptive optics at the Keck Observatory, she and her colleagues have revealed many surprises about the environment of supermassive black holes, such as spotting young stars where none were expected and a shortage of old stars where many were expected.
In 2000, Ghez and her research team reported that astronomers had first seen stars accelerate around the supermassive black hole. In 2003, she and her team reported that the case for the Milky Way’s black hole had been significantly strengthened and that any suggested alternatives could be ruled out.
In 2005, Ghez and her colleagues at the Keck Observatory took the first clear picture of the center of the Milky Way, including the vicinity of the black hole.
Ghez has received numerous awards for her research, including elections to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was the first woman to receive the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and was made a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. In 2019, she received an honorary degree from Oxford University.
Ghez earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from WITH 1987 and PhD in 1992 at Caltech. She has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 1994. When she was young, she wanted to be the first woman to walk on the moon.
Lessons from an outstanding career
At a UCLA press conference hours after the Nobel Prize was announced, Ghez discussed her research and shared lessons from her entire career.
When asked about the competitive potential between astronomers to make the next big discovery, she said it took her about 10 years to learn the approach that continues to serve her: “Focus on getting the science right, instead of to be the first. ”
Her future goals include learning and testing how gravity works near a supermassive black hole.
Ghez also encouraged young students who love science to achieve their dreams and learn how to overcome obstacles. “Follow your passions,” she said, “and be persistent…. Find comfort with discomfort. ”
And she admitted that she is happy to be recognized as a role model for young women, as has been the case for decades. She published “You Can Be an Astronomer” in 1995.
Ghez is the eighth faculty member of UCLA to be named a Nobel Laureate, along with Willard Libby (Chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (Physics, 1965), Donald Cram (Chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (Chemistry, 1997) and Louis Ignarro (Physiology or Medicine, 1998), Lloyd Shapley (Economics, 2012) and J. Fraser Stoddart (2016). Stoddart was a Northwestern University Faculty member when he received the award, but much of the work for which he was recognized was done at UCLA from 1997 to 2008.
In addition, seven UCLA alumni were awarded the Nobel Prize.
After Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018, Ghez is also the fourth woman to receive the physics award.
Read Andrea Ghez Wins 2020 Nobel Prize Share for Discoveries in Black Hole Physics to learn more on the subject.
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