Oct 7, 2020

UCLA Professor Becomes 4th Woman To Win Nobel Prize In Physics

UCLA professor Andrea Ghez and UC Berkeley professor Reinhard Genzel​ discovered a massive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

LOS ANGELES, CA — A UCLA professor of astrophysics became only the fourth woman win the Nobel Prize in Physics Tuesday for her study of black holes. Professor Andrea Ghez shared the prize with Roger Penrose and UC Berkeley professor Reinhard Genzel.

Ghez finds herself in the company Marie Curie, who won the prize in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer who won 60 years later in 1963, and Donna Strickland who won 55 years later in 2018.

Ghez and Genzel discovered a massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The black hole is millions of times the mass of the sun, and a study published in July 2019 in the journal Science by Ghez and her research group is regarded as the most comprehensive test of Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Although she concluded that "Einstein's right, at least for now," the research group is continuing to test Einstein's theory, which she says cannot fully explain gravity inside a black hole.Ghez studies more than 3,000 stars that orbit the supermassive black hole. Black holes have such high density that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light. The center of the vast majority of galaxies appears to have a supermassive black hole, she said.

"I think today I feel more passionate about the teaching side of my job than I have ever," Ghez said after the prize was announced in Stockholm, Sweden.Penrose was awarded "for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity." Genzel and Ghez were honored "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy."

Ghez, the director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group, praised the collaborative effort behind the discovery and said that "the research the Nobel committee is honoring today is the product of a wonderful collaboration among the scientists in the UCLA Galactic Center Orbits Initiative and the University of California's wise investment in the W.M. Keck Observatory" in Hawaii.

"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."

One half of the prize went to Penrose, a physicist, mathematician and cosmologist at the University of Oxford who worked with a fellow physicist, the late Stephen Hawking, to merge Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum theory to suggest that space and time would begin with the Big Bang and end in black holes. The other half was awarded to Ghez and to Genzel, who is director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, and a professor at UC Berkeley.

The 55-year-old New York-born Ghez attended the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She authored the book, "You Can Be a Woman Astronomer."

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block lauded Ghez for her accomplishments.

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

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced Wednesday, followed by the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the Prize in Economic Sciences on Monday. This year's Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded Monday to three researchers for the discovery of hepatitis C virus, leading to the development of tests and treatments.

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