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Astrophysicist Andrea Ghez Wins 2020 Nobel Prize for Physics for Supermassive Black Hole Discovery

Dr. Andrea Ghez became the fourth woman in history to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Dr. Andrea Ghez was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics this week for her discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy! The astrophysicist, who is the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics at UCLA, shares half of the prize with Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley; the other half recognizes Roger Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford who proved that black holes must be a physical reality. Ghez was delighted to receive the award, particularly because she is only the fourth woman in history to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics. "I'm thrilled to receive the prize and I take very seriously the responsibility associated with being... the fourth woman to win," Ghez said after the announcement. "[And] I think today I feel more passionate about the teaching side of my job than I have ever. Because it's so important to convince the younger generation that their ability to question, and their ability to think, is just crucial to the future of the world."

Born in New York City in 1965, Ghez says the moon landings inspired her childhood dream of becoming the first female astronaut, helping to pique her interest in science. She was further encouraged by Judith Keane, her chemistry teacher in high school and the only female science teacher she had in high school or college. Ghez started her college career majoring in mathematics but changed to physics because, she says, "I love the research process. First you have to figure out what might be an interesting question to ask given what is currently known and possible to do.... While this can be a struggle because things are not totally ironed out, you get to see things in a way that have never been seen before."

After completing her bachelor's degree at MIT in 1987 and her PhD at the California Institute of Technology in 1992, she helped advance a technology called adaptive optics, which improves the performance of high-powered telescopes by reducing the distorting effect of the Earth's atmosphere and interstellar dust. This correction allows astronomers and astrophysicists to better study the behavior of distant objects in the universe. Working with the W.M. Keck Telescope in Hawaii, she and her team studied the orbits of stars near the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

Ghez and her team determined that their paths were only possible if a supermassive black hole was present in the Galactic Center, something that had long been theorized but had not been proven before Ghez's study. "Stretching the limits of technology, they refined new techniques... building unique instruments and committing themselves to long-term research," the Nobel Prize committee wrote in a press release announcing the awards. "[This] pioneering work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way."

Ghez is the fourth woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics, after Marie Skłodowska Curie, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Donna Strickland. It's a field which is notoriously unwelcoming to women. A few months before Strickland won the Nobel in 2018, Wikipedia rejected a draft article about her arguing that her "references do not show that the subject qualifies for a Wikipedia article" — even though Gérard Mourou, her partner in her prize-winning research, had been the subject of a Wikipedia page for over ten years. The representation of women in physics continues to be the lowest among all the physical sciences, with women earning approximately 19% of physics degrees at both the bachelor's and doctorate levels.

Ghez hopes that her win will be another example that encourages girls and women to enter STEM fields — particularly her area of expertise, which she calls "extreme astrophysics," that is full of mysteries to be explored. "[Einstein's] theory [of general relativity] is definitely showing vulnerability," she says. "[A]t some point we will need to move beyond Einstein’s theory to a more comprehensive theory of gravity that explains what a black hole is.... I hope I can inspire other young women in the field. It's a field that has so many pleasures, and if you are passionate about the science, there's so much that can be done."

Books And Toys To Inspire Future Astrophysicists

Baby Loves Quantum Physics!

Baby Loves Quantum Physics!

Written by: Ruth Spiro
Illustrated by: Irene Chan
Recommended Age: 0 - 3

This baby loves the family's cat, but when the cat hides inside a box, there's a mystery to consider! Is the cat awake or asleep? Until the baby opens the box, she won't know one way or another... or can the cat be both awake and asleep at the same time? In fact, Schrödinger asked a question very much like this one — a question that still generates conversation among quantum physicists! For more books from this clever board book series that introduces scientific concepts accurately, but simply enough for young children, visit our Baby Loves Science Collection.

What Miss Mitchell Saw

What Miss Mitchell Saw

Written by: Hayley Barrett
Illustrated by: Diana Sudyka
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

From the time she was very young, Maria Mitchell loved looking at the stars. With the encouragement of her father — even though she found her schooling difficult — she studied astronomy, and devoted her nights to sweeping the sky with her telescope. And then, one day, she saw something new: a comet! "Miss Mitchell's Comet" won this trailblazing astronomer international fame that led to her becoming America's first female professional astronomer. Lyrical text and luminous illustrations celebrate a star-gazing scientist who helped set the stage for generations of women after her.

Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer

Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer

Written by: Laura Gehl
Illustrated by: Alex Oxton
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

When Nancy Grace Roman was a girl, she dreamed of studying the stars. No matter what challenges she faced, whether she was struggling with weak eyesight or being told studying science wasn't "ladylike," she persisted and became an astronomer... and that was just the beginning. As the chief of astronomy at NASA, she had an idea: a telescope in orbit which would finally allow her and other astronomers to look deeper into the reaches of space than anyone had ever imagined. This elegant picture book biography of the "Mother of Hubble," complete with extensive back matter, is a must-read book for kids who love the stars!

Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists

Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists

Written by: Martha Freeman
Illustrated by: Katy Wu
Recommended Age: 6 - 10

What does it take to change the world? It takes determination, drive... and curiosity! In this exciting anthology from author Martha Freeman and Google Doodler Katy Wu, kids will meet twenty different female scientists from past and present. Each capsule biography explores the backgrounds and life experiences of these diverse women, and highlights how their curiosity drove their work. From a cure for malaria to a map of the ocean floor, from better zoos to a better understanding of our DNA, this book shows how these women have changed the world — and inspires young readers to imagine how they can change it, too!

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Written by: Libby Jackson
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

Written by: Dava Sobel
Recommended Age: Adults

If you were a woman at the Harvard Observatory in the mid-nineteenth century, you weren't an astronomer, because only men could use the telescope: you were a "human computer." But as photography began transforming astronomy, these women would revolutionize our understanding of the universe. "The glass universe" included over half a million photographic plates, and the women who studied them — including Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne — would discover novae, design stellar classification systems, and determine what stars were made of. This fascinating story of the hidden history of astronomy celebrates the women whose contributions made our current understanding of the stars and the space they inhabit possible.

Astrophysicist Doll

Astrophysicist Doll

Manufacturer: Mattel
Recommended Age: 3 - 7

If she's ever dreamed of discoveries deep in outer space, this doll from the Barbie Careers line — made in a partnership with National Geographic — is the perfect choice! This astrophysicist doll is ready to untangle the mysteries of the universe with her swiveling telescope and miniature star chart. For another doll for astronomy-loving girls, check out the Stargazer Lottie Doll for ages 3 to 8.

Amazon.com.au

Planet Building Blocks

Planet Building Blocks

Manufacturer: Uncle Goose
Recommended Age: 2 and up

Pay tribute to the beauty of the solar system with a beautiful set of heirloom-quality blocks from Uncle Goose! This set of nine blocks includes all eight planets, plus dwarf planet Pluto. Interesting facts like number of moons, distance from the sun, and more look great with the high-quality construction — and like all Uncle Goose products, these blocks are made of eco-friendly, renewable basswood. For another astronomy-themed set from this great company, check out these Constellation Building Blocks.

Amazon.com.au

Planets in Space 1000-Piece Puzzle

Planets in Space 1000-Piece Puzzle

Manufacturer: KWYZ
Recommended Age: 10 and up

Explore the wonders of our solar system with this gorgeous 1,000-piece puzzle from KWYZ! This puzzle features a thrilling view, with the moon and an astronaut in the foreground, and our Sun, the Earth, and other planets in the background. Iconic elements of space history, from the lunar lander to the space shuttle, also put in an appearance, for an image that will delight anyone who dreams of sailing beyond our atmosphere. This puzzle is 27.5" x 19.75" when complete, and even comes with a poster you can put up on display!

Amazon.com.au

70mm Refractor Telescope

70mm Refractor Telescope

Manufacturer: Solomark
Recommended Age: 10 and up

See the heavens with this high-quality refractor telescope from Solomark! This entry level telescope and astronomy kit is perfect for the budding star-gazer. This telescope comes with two 1.25" eyepieces, K20mm and K9mm, for 20-power and 44-power views. It also has a finderscope to make it easier to spot a particular object you're looking for, and a smartphone eyepiece adapter so you can take exciting pictures of what you see! It all packs inside a special grab-and-go backpack so it's easy to take stargazing on the go.

Amazon.com.au

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