Astrophysicist Andrea Ghez was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the supermassive black hole that lurks at the center of the Milky Way.
Ghez led a team that carefully measured the movements of stars at the center of the Milky Way, showing that these stars were revolving around something incredibly heavy. That black hole, named Sagittarius A*, is thought to have played an important role in the formation of our galaxy. She also developed a technique known as speckle imaging, which combines many short exposures from a telescope into a single, crisper image.
A professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ghez grew up in Chicago and is a 1983 graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, an N-12 school renowned for its pioneering approach to education. Last month, she gave a colloquium at the UChicago physics department explaining how to prove a black hole exists.
Ahead of the Nobel Prize award ceremony on Dec. 10, she spoke with UChicago News about her love of science, how to get back up again after running into obstacles in life, and the responsibilities that come with winning sciences top honor.
You become a spokesperson for science, she said. With being the fourth woman ever awarded in physics, theres an opportunity there to be a more visible role model. How do you want to use that opportunity to advance scienceyour science, science at large, and the opportunities for the next generation to do science. So Im still thinking a lot about that.
The full interview, edited for clarity, is below.
I love it! I think its all about what you love. You can endure a lot if you have passion for something.
Anything you do with great intensity comes with all kinds of interesting issues. In both science and life, youre going to experienceIm looking for a different word than failure, because its not really failure. Its bumps in the road. Its things not going how you planned or thought, and how to develop that ability to understand the idea that all challenges can be opportunities.
I have to say, thats become one of my favorite sayingsthat all challenges can also be opportunities. When I talk to my kids, I say that good faceplants are really important in life. You need to figure out how to get up and figure out what didnt work, and how you move forward. How do you take whatever you can learn from it, and just keep going? Because that always happens. It doesnt matter what field youre in. It doesnt matter what walk of life youre from. These things will present as challenges; how do you reposition yourself so that you can make progress?
Well, you know, the first time I proposed to do this [now Nobel-winning] experiment to get telescope time, it was turned down. To me, it was so obvious that it was such a good idea! I realized when youre trying to convince a group of people to do something that hasnt been done before, just because you think its a good idea, that doesnt mean theyre going to accept it.
So it forced me to articulate the science better. Thats the opportunity: Figure out what they didnt like and strengthen the argument.
The most interesting moments scientifically are when you talk to somebody with a really different point of view. Often you can find deeper truths, or the weaknesses in work, by having dialogues. In fact, thats why I like giving talks about my work at other universities, because you present it to different audiences and they often have something new to offer, or something you didnt think of.
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