Robbert Dijkgraaf: ‘This image of black hole is a crucial breakthrough’

15 Apr 2019

Robbert Dijkgraaf admired the results that Heino Falcke and colleagues presented today in Brussels. The director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and honorary doctor of Radboud University alluded to a Nobel prize for the project.

What do you think of this discovery ?

It is fantastic. Twenty years ago, Heino Falcke and his colleagues decided that it should be possible to make an image of a black hole. Since then, much was done to actually make this possible: for example, the technology had to be developed. That you can see these results after such a long endeavour, and that the image is so beautiful: this is a fantastic success for Radboud University, for the Netherlands and for science as a whole.’

Why is this discovery so important for science?

‘These are the turning points that we have talked about for a hundred years. Do black holes really exist? I would compare this discovery with the first detection of atoms, after people had talked about this for many years. Finally, here is is the the proof: they really do exist.

From now on we no longer have an excuse for not fully understanding black holes. Black holes can also be seen as a black hole of knowledge. This discovery is a huge incentive to learn more about this phenomenon. For example, we do not yet understand what is happening inside a black hole – this is one of the great mysteries of modern physics.’

Does Heino Falcke deserve a Nobel Prize?

He laughs. ‘I think the committee in Sweden should start thinking very seriously about awarding prizes for major scientific collaborations. It is a shame that administrative aspects around the prize (only three people can receive the prize so who should be chosen?) are still a consideration.

I think that a crucial breakthrough such as making an image of a black hole certainly qualifies for a major prize. This is a five-star result; it is hard to think of anything more spectacular, or that appeals so strongly to the imagination.’

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