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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Nobel Prize in Physics 2020: UCLA and Berkeley Professors

Pamela Cruz. Peninsula 360 Press.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, as Professor Andrea Ghez and Professor Emeritus Reinhard Genzel. The Nobel committee recognized them for their work on "the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy."

The other part of the award went to Professor Roger Penrose of Oxford University for his discovery "that the formation of black holes is a strong prediction of the general theory of relativity".

Thus, this year's award was about "the darkest secrets of the universe", the black holes, said the secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Göran Hansson, who pointed out that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional ceremony could not be held; however, the awards will be presented before the end of the year in Stockholm.

The work that received the recognition talks about one of the strangest predictions of the general theory of relativity, adopted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago, which stated that if an object were massive enough, its gravity would be so strong that nothing, not even light, could escape.

In 1965, Penrose demonstrated that black holes really can form and described them in detail, showing that, deep down, they hide the singularity at which all known laws of nature cease.

By 1969, Genzel was a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, working with the late Nobel laureate Charles Townes. The two presented the first observations that suggested that the center of our galaxy harbored a supermassive black hole, although the evidence was weak.

Genzel worked vigorously over the following decades to prove his case and developed a technique in which he can very accurately measure and determine the mass and behavior of stars circling the galactic center.

He and his colleagues substantiated their claims in 2002 when they reported the orbit of a star around the galactic center and concluded that it surrounded an object with the mass of several million stars like our sun, all together in a region smaller than the size of our solar system.

For his part, Ghez led a team at UCLA that confirmed that finding, and as the two groups mapped the galactic center more precisely using the world's largest telescopes, they provided the most convincing evidence yet for a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, an invisible and extremely heavy object about 4 million times the mass of our sun.

"The discoveries of this year's awardees have broken new ground in the study of compact and supermassive objects. But these exotic objects still raise many questions that beg for answers and motivate future research, not only questions about their internal structure, but also about how to test our theory of gravity in the extreme conditions in the vicinity of a black hole," said David Haviland, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, at the press conference in Sweden to announce the award.

With Genzel, UC Berkeley is now home to 9 Nobel laureates, while in total, 24 faculty members have received the same award.

Meanwhile, Ghez is the eighth UCLA faculty member to be named a Nobel laureate, and is the fourth woman to receive the physics prize, following Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018.

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