Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Exciting Lunch for Physics Groupie

Something very exciting happened to this Physics Groupie the other day. I was extended an invitation by the UCLA Physics department to have lunch with the department Chair, Dr. Ferdinand Coroniti, and famed black hole hunter Professor Andrea Ghez. When I received the invitation I was on an emotional high because I have greatly admired Dr. Ghez and her work with black holes for quite some time. It was an unbelievable opportunity for me to have lunch with such a curious character.

Dr. Ghez was the astronomer who first confirmed the existence of a supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy with the publication of her seminal paper from 1998. This important achievement put her name on the astrophysics map of current-day luminaries like Caltech’s Mike Brown the planetary scientist responsible for demoting Pluto as a planet, and Columbia’s Brian Greene the string theorist. Ghez also is very visible in her science outreach efforts to bring complex matters of astronomy to the masses.

Our lunch took place at the UCLA Faculty Center which hosts a very nice on-campus restaurant for the faculty and their guests. I was the guest of two very well known physicists and my intent was to make every minute count! I immediately dug in to find out more about Dr. Ghez’s current research directions. The resulting discussion was fascinating. I found Dr. Ghez to be very engaging, passionate, and articulate about her work. She continues to seek out increased understanding about our galactic center by using the Keck facility on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. She heads up the UCLA Galactic Center Group which is one of only two distinct groups focused on this area (the other group is in Germany). The group’s mission is to refine our understanding of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*.

Although the days of observing at the telescope itself on the summit are long gone, Ghez regularly goes on-site to the science center in Waimea (located just North of Kona on the Island’s western coast) in order to get face to face time with the people who actually operate the telescope.

After lunch we walked back to Knudsen Hall, one of the physics buildings on campus. There, I was shown a special room called the “Astronomy Remote Observing Room” where UCLA astronomers can control the Keck telescope during the group’s allotted observing time. This way, the team can control the telescope in the same manner they could in Waimea or on the summit. The room features a three-way video conferencing setup so that researchers at UCLA can interact with the personnel at the Waimea science center and telescope operators at the summit.

My lunch with these two brilliant representatives from the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy motivated me to add the Galactic Center Group to my short-list of astrophysics research to follow closely. The areas of star formation, stellar evolution, and black holes are congruent with my primary interest in gravitational wave astronomy. I already feel a close affiliation with Dr. Ghez and her group researchers.

2 comments:

  1. dear daniel-you are very lucky to have lunch w/Ghez. and thanks for tell ing us all about it. so cool. steven b.

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  2. I just read in Nature that Dr. ghez spoke at the TED conference. I think I also saw her on a tv show about science. She is everywhere.

    DL

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