Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andrea Ghez to deliver Oct. 22 UChicago lecture

UCLA scientist and Laboratory Schools alum to discuss pioneering work on black holes

Prof. Andrea Ghez, who shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, will deliver a virtual lecture Oct. 22 as part of the University of Chicago’s Maria Goeppert-Mayer Lecture series.

Entitled “The Monster at the Heart of the Galaxy,” Ghez’s talk will provide an overview of the developments in the study of supermassive black holes—from the measurement of individual stellar orbits to advances in the world’s largest telescopes that have resolved several puzzles about the populations of stars.

“Recent observations have revealed an environment around black holes that is quite unexpected,” Ghez wrote in the description of her free public lecture, which will be webcast at 3:30 p.m. “The continued measurements of the motions of the stars is… providing insight into how black holes grow and the role they play in regulating the growth of their galaxies.”

The lectures are named in honor of Goeppert-Mayer, the pioneering theoretical physicist who developed the nuclear shell model while at UChicago and Argonne National Laboratory. She won the Nobel Prize in 1963—60 years after Marie Curie became the first female Nobel laureate. This year Ghez became the fourth woman to win the Nobel in physics.

The Department of Physics established the annual lectures in 2017 in Goeppert-Mayer’s honor to highlight women physicists who are shaping and defining their field. Last year’s speaker was Donna Strickland, the 2018 Nobel laureate in physics.

“The Maria Goeppert-Mayer Lectures recognize the significant contributions of women in physics and help our students see that they have a future as researchers and academics," said Prof. Young-Kee Kim, chair of the Department of Physics at UChicago. "We are very excited that Prof. Andrea Ghez has been recognized with a Nobel Prize and our community will have the opportunity to hear from her about her research.”

Ghez, the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair of Astrophysics at UCLA, is among the world’s leading experts in observational astrophysics. Her groundbreaking work on the black hole at the center of the Milky Way (which is called Sagittarius A*, pronounced “A-star”) has led to the best evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes.

She heads the UCLA Galactic Center Group, which is focused on using understanding the physics of gravity near black holes and they play in the formation and evolution of galaxies. Using the newly built Keck Telescope, Ghez led a team that carefully measured the movements of stars at the center of the Milky Way. They were able to show that these stars were revolving around something incredibly heavy, proving the existence of a massive object at the center. She also developed a technique known as speckle imaging, which combined many short exposures from a telescope into a single, crisper image, and continues to use adaptive optics to further sharpen our view from Earth—and compile evidence of young stars at the center of the universe for her research on how stars and their systems evolve.

Ghez has strong ties to the University of Chicago. Before she earned her bachelor’s degree from MIT in 1987 and her Ph.D. from Caltech in 1992, she grew up in Hyde Park and was a 1983 graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.