Nowak, collaborators win Breakthrough Prize for black hole image

Black Hole
The 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes the first image of a black hole, using Event Horizon Telescope observations of the center of the galaxy M87. Michael Nowak, research professor of physics in Arts & Sciences, is a member of the large collaboration that released the image in April 2019. (Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)

Michael Nowak, research professor of physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, is a member of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration that was awarded the 2020 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. The award recognizes the team’s achievement of making the first image of a supermassive black hole, “taken by means of an Earth-sized alliance of telescopes.”


Nowak researches high-energy phenomena related to the physics of black holes. His areas of research interest include: stellar mass black holes in our galaxy; supermassive black holes in the centers of our and other galaxies; and neutron stars.

As a member of the EHT collaboration, Nowak was part of the multi-wavelength team that arranged simultaneous observations with spacecraft, specifically those coordinated with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, to help understand models of the dramatic black hole image.

The Breakthrough Prize announcement noted: “After painstakingly analyzing the data with novel algorithms and techniques, the team produced an image of this galactic monster, silhouetted against hot gas swirling around the black hole, that matched expectations from Einstein’s theory of gravity: a bright ring marking the point where light orbits the black hole, surrounding a dark region where light cannot escape the black hole’s gravitational pull.”

The $3 million prize will be split equally among all 347 co-authors of the first six papers published by the EHT in April, which can be found here.

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