WiSW: Andrea Ghez

Andrea M. Ghez is an astronomer and a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA. Last year she became the fourth woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. She was awarded the prize along with Reinhard Genzel for their research and discovery of a black hole at the galactic center of the Milky Way galaxy. 

Ghez’s research uses kinematics, or the geometry of motion, and high spatial resolution imaging techniques to study stars near the center of the Milky Way. Her research data and images are gathered by the telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.A

Growing up Andrea attended the University of Chicago Lab School, where one of her aspirations was to become the first female astronaut. Later, at MIT she initially majored in mathematics, but switched to physics, achieving her BS in physics in 1987. In 1992 she received her Ph.D. at Caltech. 

In 2004, Ghez was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, where she voluntarily advises the United States on matters relating to her respective fields. There are over 2,350 NAS members, they are elected to the position for life. Over 190 of those members have won a Nobel Prize. But only around 15% of the members are women.

In 2019, Ghez was elected as a fellow to the American Physical Society. The mission of the APS is the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of physics. There are currently over 50,000 members.  

Through imaging the center of the Milky Way with adaptive optics to correct for atmospheric turbulence, and using infrared imaging techniques to peer through heavy dust that blocks visible light, Ghez and her team were able to track the orbits of stars around the black hole Sagittarius A*. Her team also discovered another star, S55, orbiting the galactic center. A few more decades of observation could help test Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Her discoveries best demonstrate that the most likely explanation for the orbit of stars in the Milky Way is a supermassive black hole. 

This image released Wednesday, April 10, 2019, by Event Horizon Telescope shows a black hole. Scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole after assembling data gathered by a network of radio telescopes around the world. (Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/Maunakea Observatories via AP)

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