How Andrea Ghez Won the Nobel for an Experiment Nobody Thought Would Work

Standing in my office 25 years ago was an unknown, newly minted astronomer with a half-smile on her face. She had come with an outrageous request—really a demand—that my team modify our exhaustively tested software to make one of our most important and in-demand scientific instruments do something it had never been designed for, and risk breaking it. All to carry out an experiment that was basically a waste of time and couldn’t be done—to prove that a massive black hole lurked at the center of our Milky Way.

My initial “no way” (perhaps I used a stronger expression) gradually gave way in the face of her cheerful but unwavering determination. It was my first encounter with a force of nature, Andrea Ghez, one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, for her work on providing the conclusive experimental evidence of a supermassive black hole with the

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Nobel Prize for physics awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez

LONDON — Three scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physics for groundbreaking research into black holes, the spacetime phenomena that have long consumed the imagination of both scientists and fiction writers.

Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez’s work has helped reveal “the darkest secrets of the universe,” Secretary General Göran K. Hansson for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said when announcing the winners Tuesday.

British mathematical physicist Penrose of the University of Oxford has been honored “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity,” the prize committee said.

Building on Nobel laureate Albert Einstein’s general

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