January 16, 2009
Colloquium Speaker: Mario Livio
Dr Mario Livio is a senior astrophysicist and Head of the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the institute which conducts the scientific program of the Hubble Space Telescope. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics from Tel Aviv University in Israel, was a professor in the Physics Department of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology from 1981 till 1991, and joined STScI in 1991. Dr Livio has published over 400 scientific papers and received numerous awards for research, for excellence in teaching, and for his books. His interests span a broad range of topics in astrophysics, from cosmology to the emergence of intelligent life. Dr Livio has done much fundamental work on the topic of accretion of mass onto black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs, as well as on the formation of black holes and the possibility to extract energy from them. During the past decade Dr Livio's research focused on supernova explosions and their use in cosmology to determine the rate of expansion of the universe, and the nature of the "dark energy" that causes the cosmic expansion to accelerate. He has also worked on the survival of extrasolar planets. In addition to his scientific interests, Dr Livio is a self-proclaimed 'art fanatic' who owns many hundreds of art books. In the past few years, he combined his passions for science and art in four popular books. "The Accelerating Universe" (2000) discusses 'beauty' as an essential ingredient in fundamental theories of the universe. "The Golden Ratio" (2002) tells the story of the amazing appearances of the peculiar number 1.618... in nature, the arts, and psychology. "The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved" (2005) explores the role of symmetries in human perception, in science, and in visual arts and music. "Is God A Mathematician?" (January 6, 2009) attempts to answer two intriguing questions with which many thinkers have struggled for centuries: (1) Why is mathematics as powerful as it is in explaining the universe around us? And (2) Does mathematics exist out there and we are merely discovering it, or is mathematics an invention of the human mind? Dr Livio lectures very frequently to the public. He has given more than 20 full day seminars to the public at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and just during the past few years has given public lectures at the Hayden Planetarium in New York, The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Berlin Planetarium, the Edinburgh Planetarium, and many more. His book "The Golden Ratio" won him the "Peano Prize" for 2003, and the "International Pythagoras Prize" for 2004, as the best popular book on mathematics.
For centuries, mathematical theories have proven uncannily accurate at describing - and predicting - the physical world. What is it that gives mathematics such powers? I will thoroughly review this question in "Is God A Mathematician?" (a talk based on my recently published popular book). The talk will span such fields as mathematics, cosmology, physics, and the cognitive sciences, and will attempt to offer an accessible and lively account of the ideas of some of the greatest mathematicians and scientists in history, from Archimedes to Galileo and Descartes, and from Newton to Hilbert and Gödel, on up to the present day. Along the way I will discuss another question with which mathematicians, philosophers, and neuroscientists have struggled for centuries: Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered?