Talk about speaking your truth. As a fledgling astronomer, Andrea Ghez tenaciously demanded the modification of carefully tested software to allow one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment to be used for something it had never been designed for: to prove that a massive black hole was at the center of our galaxy.
Andrea was met with continuous, solid resistance, but remained steadfast in what she knew in her bones was a worthy pursuit. Andrea has been described as determined, a “force of nature”, and an enthusiastic professor with a bubbly personality. Her confidence, focus, ability to persuade and problem solve eventually landed her the Nobel Prize for Physics decades later.
Andrea’s ability to focus has allowed her to spend 25 years exclusively studying Sagittarius-A, which is the name of the black hole centered in our own Milky Way. Only in the last quarter century have scientists been looking for and finding evidence of black holes and Andrea is a leading pioneer in this field.
Andrea did her work through the W.M. Keck Observatory’s twin telescopes in Maunakea, Hawai’i and at UCLA where she founded the UCLA Galactic Center Group. At Keck, Andrea used the very first instrument commissioned on Keck Observatory’s Near Infrared Camera. This piece of equipment was not designed to do what Andrea needed, but she stuck with the extremely difficult and time-consuming task to make sense of the data produced. Eventually, Andrea uncovered the first evidence of stars orbiting our very own black hole. Confirmation of this initial finding occupied her for years to follow.
Fast forward to a recent morning at 2AM. Andrea Ghez was awakened by a phone call informing her that she had just become the 4th woman (the last was Marie Curie – who won it twice!) to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. She shares this honor with Roger Penrose and Reinhard Genzel with whom she collaborated closely. GYNOMITE!
by Carrie Mapes