Professor Andrea Ghez Wins Nobel Prize

Campus UpdateFaculty and Staff

Chancellor Block sent the following message to the UCLA campus community.

Dear Bruin Community:

I am delighted to share that Andrea Ghez, UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, has been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics. Professor Ghez was notified early this morning of the award, which honors her pioneering discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Professor Ghez shares this year’s prize with Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford, and Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, for their discoveries related to black holes, regions of space so dense that nothing can escape their gravitational pull.

This is a historic achievement and a moment of great pride for UCLA, highlighting the critical research that continues on our campus even in the midst of a pandemic. The Nobel Prize is a global symbol of discovery, progress and excellence — and receiving one is an incredible acknowledgement of our faculty’s impact on the world. If we had any doubt, this award tells us that what we do at UCLA makes a profound difference.

Early in her career at UCLA, Professor Ghez helped develop powerful technology called adaptive optics, which allows astronomers to correct the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere and better understand a region called Sagittarius A* at the center of our galaxy. Her research in the 1990s showing that a supermassive compact object exists within Sagittarius A* answered a question of great debate among astronomers and tested Albert Einstein’s iconic general theory of relativity. In the years since, she has continued an ambitious research program focused on the region.

Professor Ghez’s work is emblematic of UCLA’s mission — and that of thousands of our faculty, researchers and students — to pursue scholarship that extends our understanding of the world and our place in it. In addition to being a professor of astrophysics, she is director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group. Professor Ghez and her team conduct their research at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

Professor Ghez is the eighth UCLA faculty member to be named a Nobel laureate, joining Willard Libby (chemistry, 1960), Julian Schwinger (physics, 1965), Donald Cram (chemistry, 1987), Paul Boyer (chemistry, 1997), Louis Ignarro (physiology or medicine, 1998), Lloyd Shapley (economic sciences, 2012) and J. Fraser Stoddart (chemistry, 2016). Additionally, seven impressive UCLA alumni have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Professor Ghez is also only the fourth woman to receive the physics prize, following Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018.

We are exceedingly proud of Professor Ghez’s well-deserved recognition. Please join me in congratulating her on this landmark achievement.

  • Gene D. BlockChancellor