Keck Observatory astronomer wins Nobel Prize in physics

  • Andrea Ghez

  • Ghez

Longtime W.M. Keck Observatory astronomer Andrea Ghez has won the Nobel Prize in physics for research proving the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

According to the observatory, Ghez has been studying the galactic center using the Keck Observatory on Maunakea for more than two decades.

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The Nobel Prize committee made the announcement early Tuesday morning.

The 2020 award was divided, with one half awarded to theoretical physicist Roger Penrose for his contributions showing that black holes were an inevitable consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and the other half jointly awarded to Ghez and astronomer Reinhard Genzel for providing evidence of the black hole’s existence.

“Working closely with Keck Observatory and our Hawaii staff of engineers and scientists, Dr. Andrea Ghez harnessed the power of the observatory’s optical/infrared telescopes and Maunakea’s unparalleled view of the universe to conduct pioneering research proving the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy,” Hilton Lewis, director of W. M. Keck Observatory, said in a news release. “We couldn’t be more elated for Andrea, who has devoted the entirety of her career to this research — over 25 years — all done at Keck Observatory.

Ghez, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group, is only the fourth woman to win the Nobel Prize in physics.

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“… Andrea works tirelessly to expand our horizons and drive technological innovations within our field, while being as passionate about sharing science with the public,” he continued. “She has given many public lectures right here in Hawaii and is recognized as a compelling speaker. Her teaching and research serves as an inspiration to aspiring scientists everywhere. She is a role model for our youth in what a commitment to an idea coupled with ability and tenacity can achieve. This is a monumental day for astronomy done right here in Hawaii.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987 and a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology in 1992, and she has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 1994.

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