Andrea Ghez Wins Nobel Prize in Physics for Pioneering Research on the Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole

Professor Andrea Ghez

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Andrea Ghez is the 8th UCLA professor to be called a Nobel laureate. Credit: Elena Zhukova/University of California

Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, today was granted the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics.

Ghez shares half of the reward with Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. The Nobel committee applauded them for “the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.” The partner of the reward was granted to Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford “for the discovery that great void development is a robust forecast of the basic theory of relativity.”

In July 2019, the journal Science released a research study by Ghez and her research study group that is the most thorough test of Albert Einstein’s renowned basic theory of relativity near the monstrous great void at the center of our galaxy. Although she concluded that “Einstein’s right, at least for now,” the research study group is continuing to test Einstein’s theory, which she states cannot completely describe gravity inside a great void.

Ghez research studies more than 3,000 stars that orbit the supermassive great void. Black holes have such high density that absolutely nothing can leave their gravitational pull, not even light. The center of the huge bulk of galaxies appears to have a supermassive great void, she stated.

“I’m thrilled and incredibly honored to receive a Nobel Prize in physics,” stated Ghez, who is director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group. “The research study the Nobel committee is honoring today is the item of a terrific partnership amongst the researchers in the UCLA Galactic Center Orbits Initiative and the University of California’s sensible financial investment in the W.M. Keck Observatory. 

“We have cutting-edge tools and a world-class research team, and that combination makes discovery tremendous fun. 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 admired Ghez for her achievements.

“The UCLA community is exceedingly proud of Professor Ghez’s achievements, including this extraordinary honor,” Block stated. “We are inspired by her research uncovering the secrets of our universe and its potential to help us better understand the cosmos.”

David Haviland, chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics, stated: “The discoveries of this year’s Laureates have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still pose many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research. Not only questions about their inner structure, but also questions about how to test our theory of gravity under the extreme conditions in the immediate vicinity of a black hole.”

Questioning Einstein

Ghez and her group have actually made direct measurements of how gravity works near a supermassive great void — research study she refers to as “extreme astrophysics.”

Einstein’s basic theory of relativity is the very best description of how gravity works. “However, his theory is definitely showing vulnerability,” Ghez stated in 2019. “[A]t some point we will require to move beyond Einstein’s theory to a more thorough theory of gravity that describes what a great void is.”

Less than 2 months after her publication in Science, she and her research study group reported in Astrophysical Journal Letters the unexpected finding that the supermassive great void is having an abnormally big meal of interstellar gas and dust — and they do not yet comprehend why.

“We have never seen anything like this in the 24 years we have studied the supermassive black hole,” she stated at the time. “It’s usually a pretty quiet, wimpy black hole on a diet. We don’t know what is driving this big feast.”

In January 2020, her group reported the discovery of a brand-new class of strange things — things that appear like gas and act like stars — at the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive great void.

Ghez and her group performed their research study at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. They have the ability to see the effect of how area and time get comingled near the supermassive great void, which is some 26,000 light-years away.

“Making a measurement of such fundamental importance has required years of patient observing, enabled by state-of-the-art technology,” Richard Green, director of the National Science Foundation’s department of huge sciences, stated in 2019.

“Andrea is one of our most passionate and tenacious Keck users,” Keck Observatory director Hilton Lewis stated, likewise in 2019. “Her newest groundbreaking research study is the conclusion of unwavering dedication over the previous twenty years to open the secrets of the supermassive great void at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy.”

The National Science Foundation moneyed Ghez’s research study for the past 25 years. More just recently, her research study has actually likewise been moneyed by the W.M. 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 responded to among astronomy’s essential concerns, assisting to reveal that a supermassive great void lives at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The concern had actually been a topic of much argument amongst astronomers for more than a quarter of a century.

An innovation that altered the field

Ghez assisted leader an effective innovation called adaptive optics, which remedies the distorting results of the Earth’s environment in genuine time and opened the center of our galaxy as a lab for checking out great voids and their basic function in the advancement of deep space. With adaptive optics at the Keck Observatory, she and her associates have actually exposed numerous surprises about the environments surrounding supermassive great voids, finding, for instance, young stars where none were anticipated and an absence of old stars where numerous were prepared for.

In 2000, Ghez and her research study group reported that for the very first time, astronomers had actually seen stars speed up around the supermassive great void. In 2003, she and her group reported that the case for the Milky Way’s great void had actually been enhanced considerably which all of the proposed options might be omitted.

In 2005, Ghez and her associates took the very first clear photo of the center of the Milky Way, consisting of the location surrounding the great void, at the Keck Observatory.

Ghez has actually made various honors for her research study, consisting of election to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was the very first lady to get the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Crafoord Prize and was called a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. In 2019, she was granted an honorary degree by Oxford University.

Ghez made a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1987 and a doctorate from Caltech in 1992, and she has actually belonged to the UCLA professors given that 1994. When she was young, she wished to be the very first lady to stroll on the moon.

Lessons from an outstanding profession

At a UCLA press conference hours after the Nobel statement, Ghez discussed her research study and shared lessons from throughout her profession.

Asked about the capacity for competitors amongst astronomers to make the next significant discovery, she stated it took her about 10 years to discover the method that has actually continued to serve her: “Focus on getting the science right, rather than being first.”

Among her future objectives, she stated, is discovering and evaluating how gravity works near a supermassive great void.

Ghez likewise motivated young trainees who enjoy science to pursue their dreams and discover how to get rid of barriers. “Follow your passions,” she stated, “and be persistent…. Find comfort with discomfort.”

And she acknowledged that she is delighted to be acknowledged as a good example for girls, as she has actually been for years. She released “You Can Be a Woman Astronomer” in 1995.

Ghez is the 8th UCLA professor to be called a Nobel laureate, signing up with Willard Libby (chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), Louis Ignarro (physiology or medication, 1998), Lloyd Shapley (economics, 2012) and J. Fraser Stoddart (2016). Stoddart was a Northwestern University professor when he got the honor, however much of the work for which he was acknowledged was performed at UCLA from 1997 to 2008.

In addition, 7 UCLA alumni have actually been granted the Nobel Prize.

Ghez is likewise the 4th lady to get the physics reward, following Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018.

Read Andrea Ghez Wins Share of 2020 Nobel Prize for Discoveries in Black Hole Physics for more on this subject.