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Winter 1998
Rising Star
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"Our galaxy is rather mild-mannered and quiet, and was one of the least likely galaxies to have a black hole at its center," Ghez says. "Yet, a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy is precisely what we have found."

Her discoveries have sent quivers throughout the space-science community. She and a team of UCLA astronomers presented their "very strong" evidence of the black hole in September at a conference in Arizona, and their research will be published in the December issue of the Astrophysical Journal. The popular press, too, has been tantalized; Discover magazine made it its cover story in November.

"What lies in the center of the Milky Way has been one of this century's 'big' science questions," says Terry Oswalt, program manager for Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics at the National Science Foundation. "Andrea's work has massive implications on our understanding of how galaxies evolve."

At 33, Ghez is a meteoric star on the UCLA astronomy faculty. Even before the most recent groundbreaking announcement, she was earning accolades and international recognition for her work, not to mention a trophy-case full of important prizes. She received the 1998 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy, given for "outstanding achievement" to an astronomer under 36. There has been the 1999 Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award from the American Physical Society for outstanding achievement by a woman scientist. There has been a Packard Fellowship, a Sloan Fellowship, an NSF Young Investigator Award, teaching awards from the UCLA Department of Physics and from Caltech and a host of other recognitions. The chair of her department, Ferdinand Coroniti, calls Ghez's work "a real tour-de-force ... that continues to dazzle and amaze the astronomical community."

Though she is quite young to have accomplished as much as she has, Ghez's star has been on the ascent for a long time. When she was 4, she remembers watching the first lunar landing on TV and announcing that she planned to become the first woman astronaut on the moon. Her parents -- her father was an economics professor, her mother an art-gallery director in Chicago -- didn't laugh; they bought her a telescope.

Years later, when she decided she wanted to attend the male-dominated Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- sort of the Citadel of science -- her high school science teacher told her to ignore her counselor's warning that "women don't get in there" and apply. Ghez earned her B.S. from MIT in 1987, and her M.S. and Ph.D.s from Caltech

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