06. October 2020

Bonn alumnus Reinhard Genzel receives the Nobel Prize for Physics Bonn alumnus Reinhard Genzel receives the Nobel Prize for Physics

Distinguished physicist received his doctorate at the University of Bonn in 1978

The astrophysicist Prof. Dr. Reinhard Genzel, a graduate of the University of Bonn, receives this year's Nobel Prize in Physics together with two other researchers. The Nobel Committee thus honors his contribution to the discovery of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Excellent researcher
Excellent researcher - Reinhard Genzel receives the Nobel Prize in Physics for his observations of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. © Photo: MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics

Reinhard Genzel receives the award together with the US astronomer Andrea Ghez for his discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. They share half of this year's Nobel Prize for Physics. The other half goes to the British physicist Roger Penrose for the discovery that black holes are a robust prediction of general relativity. The prize is endowed with ten million Swedish kroner (the equivalent of around 950,000 euros) and is traditionally presented on December 10th, the anniversary of the death of the founder Alfred Nobel.

Reinhard Genzel is considered one of the world's leading researchers in the field of infrared and submillimeter astronomy. Together with Andrea Ghez, he discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object determines the orbits of stars at the center of our galaxy. Astronomers call the region "Sagittarius A*". A supermassive "black hole" is the only currently known explanation. Genzel and Ghez have developed methods to see through the huge clouds of interstellar gas and dust to the center of the Milky Way with the largest telescopes in the world. "Their pioneering work has given us the most convincing evidence yet of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way," says the tribute published today by the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Rector of the University of Bonn, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Hoch, congratulates Reinhard Genzel on his high distinction: "The Nobel Prize is the highest form of recognition in our scientific system. In Bonn we are proud that one of our alumni belongs to the circle of the honored this year. Mr. Genzel completed his training as a physicist in Bonn and earned his first academic "spurs" here". Part of the glamour of his award thus radiates back to Bonn.

Black holes are a current research topic

In 1978 Reinhard Genzel received his doctorate at the University of Bonn. He was supervised by Prof. Dr. Peter Mezger from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. For his dissertation Genzel also used the 100-meter telescope operated by the institute in the Eifel town of Effelsberg. Researchers in Bonn are still occupied with black holes today: Several groups at the Max Planck Institute were involved in one of the largest scientific sensations of 2019. As part of the "Event Horizon Telescope" project, the first snapshot of a supermassive black hole was taken. More than 30 scientists from all three MPIfR director groups were involved in the discovery as members of the international project team.

"Incredibly detailed and precise work"

Dr. Gunther Witzel, who works at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, spent six years in the research group of Andrea Ghez in Los Angeles, working with her and Reinhard Genzel on studies of the Galactic Center. He says: "This is a recognition of the incredibly detailed and precise work done by both groups at the Max Planck Institute in Munich and at the University of California/Los Angeles (UCLA), over many years. During my time at UCLA, I was able to see firsthand how difficult the struggle to understand the data and interpret it was, not only on questions of the black hole. The two groups literally outbid each other in the development of measurement and interpretation methods, and the results speak volumes".

Prof. Dr. Frank Bertoldi, who teaches and researches at the Argelander Institute for Astronomy at the University of Bonn, also knows the new Nobel Prize winner from many personal contacts and joint research work: "Mr. Genzel is an outstanding and very determined scientist who always drives his team to top performance. Many excellent minds have emerged from his environment. It was foreseeable that he would one day receive the Nobel Prize. But this will not prevent him from continuing his research at full speed in the future.”


Contact for the media:

Prof. Dr. Frank Bertoldi
Argelander Institute for Astronomy at the University of Bonn
Phone +49 (0) 228/73-6789
e-mail: bertoldi@astro.uni-bonn.de

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