UC Berkeley played big role in Nobel Prize-winning work

October 7, 2020


Huge leaps in technology allowed Reinhard Genzel to probe stars zipping around the center of the Milky Way galaxy 25,000 light years away, eventually earning him a portion of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics. But later in the day, Zoom technology proved too balky to bridge the gap between the physicist, currently in Munich, and his fans in Berkeley.

Genzel, a Berkeley professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, as well as director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, credited the late Berkeley Nobel laureate Charles Townes for initiating the studies that led to the discovery. Decades ago, Townes, the inventor of the maser and laser, desperately wanted to use infrared detectors to study the center of the galaxy, which some astronomers thought might host an unseen and very large black hole.

Genzel shares half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics with UCLA professor Andrea Ghez.   Jessica Lu is a UC Berkeley associate professor of astronomy who has been part of Ghez’s team studying the galactic center since her days as a UCLA graduate student in 2003.

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