April 5, 2002
In 1998, two groups of astronomers presented evidence that the expansion of our universe is accelerating! If confirmed, these findings have enormous implications for cosmology. Perhaps even more importantly, the discovery of accelerated expansion challenges the centuries-old belief that the fundamental theory of the universe must be ‘beautiful’. Is our universe truly accelerating? How do you define ‘beauty’ in a physical theory?
Dr Mario Livio is head of the Science Division at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI), the institute that 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 dept. of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology from 1981-1991, and joined STScI in 1991. Dr. Livio has published over 300 scientific papers and received numerous awards for research and for excellence in teaching. 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 back holes and the possibility to extract energy from them. During the past two years, his research focused on supernova explosions and their use in cosmology to determine the rate of expansion of the universe. In particular, he has shown that in spite of some uncertainties that still exist in theoretical models for supernovae, it is very likely that the recent findings that the expansion of our universe is accelerating are correct. In addition to his scientific interests, Dr. Livio is a self-proclaimed ‘art fanatic’ who owns many hundreds of art books. Recently, he combined his passions for science and art in a popular book, The Accelerating Universe, which appeared in 2000. The book discusses ‘beauty’ as an essential ingredient in fundamental theories of the universe. He has given seminars at the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and the Hayden Planetarium in New York, the Johnson Space Center, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and the Institute of Astrophysics in Munich, Germany.