Professor Andrea Ghez, who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics and directs the UCLA Galactic Center Group, has been selected to receive the Sven Berggren Prize of 2017 from Sweden’s Royal Physiographic Society in Lund. Ghez will give the Sven Berggren lecture in the city of Lund.
The prize commemorates Sven Berggren, a young medical scientist. The prize has been awarded to outstanding researchers, including four Nobel laureates, in the natural sciences, medicine and technology.
Since 1995, Ghez has used the Keck Observatory, which sits atop Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano, to study the rotational center of the Milky Way and the movement of thousands of stars close to this galactic center. The observatory is the world’s largest telescope.
Ghez, who was selected as a 2008 MacArthur Fellow, among many other prestigious honors, uses novel, ground-based telescopic techniques to remove the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, making the sharpest possible images of the center of our galaxy.
By measuring the orbits of stars at the center of our galaxy, she showed that a monstrous black hole resides at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, some 26,000 light-years away from Earth, with a mass 4 million times that of the sun. The finding provided the best evidence yet that supermassive black holes exist in our universe. Ghez and her research team have revealed many unexpected mysteries about the role that black holes play in the formation and evolution of galaxies.
Black holes are collapsed stars so dense that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light. They cannot be seen directly, but their influence on nearby stars is visible and provides a signature.