UCLA professors Andrea Ghez and Ian McLean have been selected this week to the first class of Legacy Fellows of the American Astronomical Society, the premier organization of professional astronomers in North America, for their achievements and service.

Ghez, who was awarded a 2019 honorary doctorate from Oxford University and a 2008 MacArthur Fellowship, is UCLA’s Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics and director of the UCLA Galactic Center Group and Galactic Center Orbits Initiative. She and her research team conducted the most comprehensive test of Albert Einstein’s iconic general theory of relativity near the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. They reported in 2019 in the journal Science that Einstein’s general theory of relativity holds up, at least for now. Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity states that what we perceive as the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time. Einstein’s theory is the best description of how gravity works, said Ghez, whose UCLA-led team of astronomers has made direct measurements of the phenomenon near a supermassive black hole — research Ghez describes as “extreme astrophysics.”

She and her research team reported this January in the journal Nature a new class of bizarre objects at the center of our galaxy, not far from the supermassive black hole. In 1998, Ghez answered one of astronomy’s most important questions, helping to show that a supermassive black hole resides at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

A powerful technology that Ghez helped to pioneer, called adaptive optics, corrects the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere in real time. With adaptive optics at Keck Observatory, Ghez and her colleagues have revealed many surprises about the environments surrounding supermassive black holes. For example, they discovered young stars where none was expected to be seen and a lack of old stars where many were anticipated.

In 2005, Ghez and her colleagues took the first clear picture of the center of the Milky Way, including the area surrounding the black hole, at Keck Observatory.

McLean, director of UCLA’s Infrared Laboratory for Astrophysics, is the recipient of many awards and honors throughout his distinguished career, including the American Astronomical Society’s 2017 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation, which is given for outstanding design, invention or significant improvement of instrumentation leading to advances in astronomy. McLean has also received the Muhlmann Award for Instrumentation from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 2016. He also has an asteroid named after him.

McLean, who is a professor of experimental astrophysics, was presented the Joseph Weber Award in “recognition of over 30 years at the forefront of the development of advanced infrared sensor arrays and for his leadership in the design, construction and deployment of innovative infrared instruments that have had widespread and fundamental scientific impact across a broad community,” according to the citation.

He built the world’s first infrared camera for wide use by astronomers in 1986. Since then, he has built several increasingly sophisticated infrared cameras and spectrometers — which split light into its component colors. UCLA’s infrared laboratory, which McLean founded in 1989, has produced instruments for the W.M. Keck Observatory, Lick Observatory, Gemini Observatory and NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. 

He and his colleagues built a machine that allows scientists to study for the first time the earliest galaxies in the universe. The five-ton instrument, called MOSFIRE (Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infra-Red Exploration), was installed in the Keck I Telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.