Mariafelicia De Laurentiis, the Einstein medal to the scientist who photographed a black hole


Twelve o'clock, 27 May 2020 – 08: 18

The recognition to the professor of astronomy and astrophysics of Federico II and researcher of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics of Naples

by Romualdo Gianoli

The 27 May was to be a special day, that of the delivery to Bern of the Einstein Medal at the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), the international collaboration of over two hundred scientists, including Mariafelicia De Laurentis, professor of astronomy and astrophysics of Federico II and researcher of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Naples.

Then the Coronavirus forced to postpone the ceremony until a later date. But the prize (awarded only to scientists of the highest level) remains and indeed, for the first time, went to the whole team that in 2019 has achieved a historical result: the first image of what astronomers call the “horizon of events” of a black hole, where the force of gravity deforms the very texture of space-time. In short, an extraordinary confirmation of the existence of black holes and the theoretical predictions of Albert Einstein. In EHT Mariafelicia De Laurentis, she plays a leading role: she is a member of the Science Council.

She and the whole group of scientists have been awarded the Einstein Medal. Can you explain what it is and why it is so important?

«It is an award awarded annually by the Albert Einstein Society to scientists who have achieved exceptional results and who have somehow changed the history of physics. The first to receive it in 1979 was Stephen Hawking. Generally the medal is awarded to one person, rarely to two, but this time the commission decided that specific circumstances required that the prize go to the whole collaboration. For us scientists who work in this field, it is a very important prize, a great honor and a wonderful recognition of our efforts and results as a team “.

EHT is a great international collaboration. How were Naples and Italy involved in the project?

«I have been in EHT since 2015, before I was in Germany at Goethe University in Frankfurt. Then in 2018 I returned to Italy and then Federico II and the National Institute of Nuclear Physics entered EHT. Italy has contributed only scientifically and at the moment there are no other people or laboratories involved or money invested by Italy in this venture “.

Are there any other women, besides you, within EHT?

«There are about 20 women. We are still too few but very determined and we assert ourselves. Unfortunately, there are still many prejudices regarding women, there is a cultural heritage according to which only men can excel in certain disciplines and if a woman climbs over them, open heaven. But, being a positive and obstinate person, I always try to transform these “difficulties” into opportunities “.

The research campaign of 2020 was canceled due to the pandemic. Are your activities stopped too?

«We had to stop the observation campaign, but not our work. In particular, we are focused on the image of Sagittarius A *, the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Be ready for this because soon we will amaze you. “

27 May 2020 | 08: 18