Science and Technology

Professor Reinhard Genzel’s lecture on exotic black holes delights audience

Professor Reinhard Genzel, director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching and one of the Nobel Laureates in Physics 2020, gave an online distinguished lecture entitled “Testing the Massive Black Hole Paradigm and General Relativity with Infrared Interferometry: A Forty-Year Journey”, this Wednesday, December 16, under the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Department of Physics (DF).

Professor Vítor Cardoso introduced the speaker and highlighted “40 years ago, when the Department of Physics was created, most scientists believed that black holes were a fantasy, and whoever worked in this area was still considered a dreamer”. “The work that won the Nobel Prize has taken decades to do and it is absolutely stunning”.

“Physics is a broad science as well as everything that is associated with it”, said professor Reinhard Genzel. “Gravity Collaboration project aims to create better and more accurate instruments that will allow to further develop the study of black holes”. The professor also stressed that this study, which involves a very diverse team and some Portuguese researchers, allowed to develop “an instrument that has never been built before, combining four 8.2-meter telescopes to make up a single giant telescope”.

After explaining how black holes emerged and how research in black holes started, professor Reinhard Genzel mentioned several events in recent years that have made this field evolve so much, namely the observation of gravitational waves. “Now more than ever, instrumentalists are presenting evidence and better evidence of these objects and understand their role in the universe. I can show you what may come next at the end of this lecture”, said the professor.

Professor Reinhard Genzel also spoke about the question of the existence of black holes. “In the early 1990s, it became clear that we needed to look at the stars, not just gas, and then get closer. And of course to build instruments that allowed us to do that”, he said.

The work carried out in Gravity is directly involved with the progress in adaptive optics technology. “This technology, together with the large telescopes, such as the Very Large Telescope in Europe, and Keck telescopes in the United States, and many others, are really the key to take the next step”, said the professor.

Professor Reinhard Genzel showed how measurements over the last decades have evolved, and they have proved the existence of such a massive black hole in the center of the Milky Way, and explained the audience that these data provide fundamental information about its properties and environment.

When distance brings us closer to knowledge

Students from Latino Coelho school, in Lamego and Jaime Moniz Secondary School, in Madeira, joined the online distinguished lecture, via Zoom.

Rodrigo Jardim, student at Jaime Moniz Secondary School was one of the students who sent a chat message asking the Nobel Prize in Physics a question. “This was a unique and very interesting opportunity to learn from a prominent scientist and to understand how scientific knowledge is constructed”.

“I am even more fascinated about physics because everything seems a little easier and more interesting after hearing someone with so much knowledge”, said João Pedro Serrão, another student from Madeira.

“I had no idea that studying black holes involved so much work”, said Beatriz Gonçalves. “It seems a lot more easier the way we learn it from books, at school. So I thought the work of these magnificent professors and scientists was easy”, adds the student.

According to the students from Latino Coelho School, “this lecture was an unique and spectacular opportunity, and also a privilege”. “This was a very enlightening and interesting lecture”, said the student Mariana Bernardo. “Having the opportunity to hear about something so fascinating” aroused the curiosity and interest of Francisca Quaresma, another secondary school student. “It was a unique opportunity, as he is a renowned physicist”.

“Unique” activities that bring students closer to key players in Science

Manuel da Silva, physics and chemistry teacher at Latino Coelho school, challenged his students to attend this lecture. “I think this is a unique opportunity for secondary school students because it brings young people closer to key players in science, namely Physics, in this case. This is the perfect opportunity to catalyze young people’s interest in Physics”.

Fernanda Freitas, Physics and Chemistry professor, at Jaime Moniz Secondary School, shares the same opinion. “This type of activities are very important for students. It’s an opportunity for them to understand the depth and breadth of the scientific process, which is something that is being built, but remains open”. The teacher adds “although there are some things that students don’t understand in class, they are aware of the importance of scientific knowledge and teamwork”. “This opportunity was unique, not only because of the topic, but also because we are hearing a Nobel Prize talking about the work of a vast team, over many years”, she adds.