Pope Francis appoints UCLA astrophysicist to Pontifical Academy of Sciences — By: Catholic News Agency

Andrea Mia Ghez, recognized for her groundbreaking research on black holes, is one of only four women to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.  / Credit: Elena Zhukova/University of California

CNA Staff, Mar 8, 2024 / 16:05 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis has appointed a California-based astrophysicist to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican announced Friday. 

The Holy Father nominated Andrea Mia Ghez as an ordinary member of the Vatican City-based academy. 

Ghez’s website says she is “best known for her groundbreaking work on the center of our galaxy, which has led to the best evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes.” 

Her work contributed to the “discovery of a supermassive compact object, now generally recognized to be a black hole, in the Milky Way’s galactic center,” her website states. 

The professor’s research “on the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way has opened a new approach to studying black holes,” her website states, “and her group is currently focused on using this approach to understand the physics of gravity near a black hole and the role that black holes play in the formation and evolution of galaxies.”

The professor earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology. She has “received numerous honors and awards, including the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics,” the Vatican said.

Ghez was born in New York City. In the past, she has cited the Apollo space program as an inspiration for her subsequent astrophysics career. 

“I’m definitely a product of the first moon landings,” she told an interviewer. “I think I told my mom I wanted to be the first female astronaut.”

Ghez is one of only four women to have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. 

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences lists among its goals “promoting the progress of the mathematical, physical, and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological questions and issues,” “recognizing excellence in science,” and “stimulating an interdisciplinary approach to scientific knowledge.”

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