Heino Valcke receives the Balzan Prize for high-resolution images of black holes

Heino Valcke receives the Balzan Prize for high-resolution images of black holes

Heino Falk, professor of astroparticle physics and radio astronomy at Radboud University, won the 2023 Balzan Prize in the category “High-resolution images, from planetary to cosmic objects.” Falk will receive the award for his pioneering work in imaging black holes and his leadership in the Event Horizon Telescope Consortium. Falk is one of the founders of the Event Horizon Telescope consortium, which published the first image of a black hole in the galaxy M87 in 2019. The prize is worth 750,000 Swiss francs.

Black hole
In 2000, Falk coined the term “black hole shadow” for the effect of distorting light around a black hole, and predicted that it should be possible to image a black hole. He later initiated the idea of ​​creating a network of radio telescopes around the world. This became the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), through which Falk became Chairman of the Science Board.

On April 10, 2019, the EHT Consortium published the first image of a black hole. This was the first direct evidence of the existence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. The image showed M87*, the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy located in the nearby Virgo Cluster.

With the EHT, scientists have a tool in their hands to study the most extreme objects in the universe, which Einstein predicted through the theory of general relativity. The experiment was repeated with measurement data from 2017 from a black hole in our Milky Way Galaxy. That photo was posted in 2022.

“It is a great honor to receive this award,” Falk said in response. “After nearly 30 years of hard work, alongside many colleagues around the world, it was a moving moment when the images were published in 2019 and 2022,” Falk said. “The award is a tribute to this global commitment.” “It feels great to be able to say that we have been able to confirm one of Einstein’s most important predictions about black holes, which is the theory of relativity.”

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Team performance
The EHT is an example of global cooperation. Thirteen partner institutes have worked together to realize the EHT. From the Netherlands, the ERC-supported BlackHoleCam project includes, in addition to Radboud astronomers, scientists from the University of Amsterdam, Leiden University, JIVE-ERIC, and the NOVA submm group at the University of Groningen.

Falk is currently working on expanding the EHT in Namibia, the African Millimeter Telescope. In collaboration with the University of Amsterdam, the University of Oxford, the University of Namibia, and the University of Turku, the telescope is designed to create high-resolution images of the interior around the black hole. The project is funded by ERC, NWO and Radboud University. The AMT Project offers scholarships to Namibian students to study Astronomy through the Fellowship Fund. “With part of the prize money, we can make a greater impact on the lives of young African scientists by supporting them in research projects related to AMT and black holes. This makes a real difference in knowledge exchange between Europe and Africa, and stimulating young talent,” Falk said.

Balzan Awards
The Balzan Awards have been established since 1956 and are awarded annually “for the promotion of culture, science and the most meritorious initiatives for the aim of humanity, peace and brotherhood among people throughout the world”. The award categories are humanities, social sciences, arts, physics, mathematics, biology and medicine. Each of the four prize winners will receive 750,000 Swiss francs to spend free of charge on research in their field. The requirement is that at least half be spent on projects involving young scientists.

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Balzan International Prize Foundation
Personal page of Professor Radboud Dr. Hino Falk

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