Nobel Prize Winner and Alumni Parent Andrea Ghez Shares Excitement for Learning Under the Stars

Andrea Ghez was joined at her Nobel Prize ceremony by her sons, Miles LaTourette-Ghez (’18) and Evan LaTourette-Ghez (’13). Photo by Annette Buhl

UCLA Lab School students and their families were treated to “An Evening Under the Stars” with 2020 Nobel Prize Winner Andrea Ghez in November, just one month after Ghez was named recipient of the globally prestigious award. Ghez is the parent of UCLA Lab School alumni Evan LaTourette-Ghez (’13) and Miles LaTourette-Ghez (’18).

Ghez, who is the UCLA Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Professor of Astrophysics, shares half the prize with Reinhard Genzel of UC Berkeley and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. They were honored for their pioneering discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

At the evening online program, students inquired about the possibility of life beyond Earth — which Ghez confirmed is possible. They also wondered if anyone could survive falling into a black hole — which Ghez said is not possible due to the effects of extreme gravitational forces.

Asked how she became interested in studying physics and astronomy, Ghez recalled hearing about the Apollo 11 moon landing when she was just 4 years old. “It captured my imagination, thinking about the universe, just the enormity of it, how big it is both in terms of space and time,” she said.

She added that she also wanted to grow up to be a ballerina, so it is only in hindsight that she “can see the early seeds.”

“I went to a school very much like UCLA Lab School,” she added. “It was the Chicago Lab School. One of the things I think is so exciting about both schools is the emphasis on thinking about learning — how do you learn and how do you ask the right questions?”

“I like to think about what I do as originating in my love of puzzles,” she continued. “I love any kind of puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle or a logic puzzle, because to me, research science is all about putting the puzzle pieces together, trying to figure out how we can put together a bigger picture.”

That same curiosity now fuels her work to find solutions to the biggest mysteries of our galaxy.

Ghez and her team have made direct measurements of how gravity works near a supermassive black hole — research she describes as “extreme astrophysics.”

Einstein’s general theory of relativity is the best description of how gravity works. “However, his theory is definitely showing vulnerability,” Ghez said in 2019. “[A]t some point we will need to move beyond Einstein’s theory to a more comprehensive theory of gravity that explains what a black hole is.”

Ghez received her Nobel diploma and medal Dec. 9 in the backyard of Leichtman and Levine’s home in Beverly Hills. Evan and Miles were part of this exciting moment honoring their mother. (See Video)

“I’m thrilled and incredibly honored to receive a Nobel Prize in physics,” said Ghez. “The research the Nobel committee is honoring today is the product of a wonderful collaboration among the scientists in the UCLA Galactic Center Orbits Initiative and the University of California’s wise investment in the W.M. Keck Observatory.”

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Information about Andrea Ghez’s research is available via UCLA Newsroom. For more information, see:

UCLA Newsroom: Andrea Ghez wins 2020 Nobel Prize in physics

UCLA Newsroom: Einstein’s general relativity theory is questioned but still stands ‘for now,’ team reports

Families interested in hands-on learning about science, check out the annual free festival Exploring Your Universe at UCLA