Livio, Mario 1945-

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LIVIO, Mario 1945-


Born 1945, in Romania; married, wife's name Sofie; children: Sharon, Oren, Maya. Education: Hebrew University, Jerusalem, B.A. (physics and mathematics); Weizmann Institute, M.Sc. (theoretical particle physics); Tel Aviv University, Ph.D. (theoretical astrophysics). Hobbies and other interests: Art.


Office—3700 San Martin Drive, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD 21218. E-mail—[email protected].


Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, professor of physics, 1981-91; Space Telescope Science Institute, member of staff, 1991—, head of science division, 2000-03. Military service: Israel Army and military reserve service, paramedic.


Carl K. Seyefert Lecturer in Astronomy, 2000; Paul H. Nitze fellow, 2001; Carnegie Centenary professorship, 2002.


(With Steven N. Shore and E. P. J. den Heuvel) Interacting Binaries, edited by H. Nussbaumer and A. Orr, Springer-Verlag (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor, with Daniela Calzetti and Piero Madau) Extragalactic Background Radiation, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(Editor, with Megan Donahue and Nino Panagia) The Extragalactic Distance Scale, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.

The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos, Wiley (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor) Unsolved Problems in Stellar Evolution, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor, with Nino Panagia and Kailash Sahu) Super-novae and Gamma-Ray Bursts: The Greatest Explosions since the Big Bang, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2002.


Mario Livio was born in Romania and for the first five years of his life was raised by his grandparents. His parents were forced to flee their homeland due to political pressures. In 1950, as pressure mounted on the Romanian Jewish community, Livio immigrated to Israel. He attended school there, where he eventually earned his doctorate in theoretical astrophysics. He served as a paramedic during three wars: the Six-Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and the war in Lebanon in 1982. Despite the tension of all these events, or maybe because of it, he fell in love with astrophysics, a subject he taught at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for ten years.

On the Space Telescope Science Institute Web site, where he has been the head of the Science Division, Livio wrote: "A love for astrophysics somehow emerged and persisted, with a special interest in the accretion of mass by black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs." He also stated that he has a more particular interest in "supernova explosions and their use in cosmology to determine the rate of expansion of the Universe, on the formation of black holes and the possibility to extract energy from them, on the formation of planets in disks around young stars, and on the emergence of intelligent life in the Universe." Livio also mentions his love of art, which is beautifully expressed through his books.

One such book is 2000's The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos. Livio describes this book as a combination of "his passions for science and art." As reviewer James Trefil for the Washington Post Book World noted: "This book starts out with a very interesting proposition: that the understanding of science can be judged on aesthetic as well as practical grounds." This fact, wrote Trefil, is nothing new to the scientific world, where scientists are often "susceptible to beauty and elegance." However, the general public, to whom Livio's book is addressed, may be surprised to learn that scientists, as Trefil stated, are not always the "hardheaded rationalists" most people assume.

Trefil praised the manner in which Livio is able to "cleverly" mingle art and science, such as comparing the analysis of a work of man-made art—like a long-appreciated Renaissance painting—with the process of study of an object that astronomers are considering and trying to understand. However, in conclusion, Trefil also found that the beauty of astrological objects, as the beauty in any work of art made by human hands, is often found "in the eye of the beholder." Beauty, in other words, is elusive and subjective, in the world at hand and in space.

Apart from the discussion of beauty in the cosmos is the book's focus on the so-called New Cosmology that states that the universe, in contrast to what astronomers used to believe, is in fact not slowing down but is actually accelerating. "Something," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "is counteracting gravity." This action will, billions of years from now, make the universe an "even vaster, emptier realm, filled with stars and galaxies flickering out one by one until there is only darkness." Livio looks at both the old theories and the new ones and evaluates them on many different levels. While the Publishers Weekly reviewer did not appreciate the beginning chapters in which Livio compared the study of astronomy to the study of art as much as the reviewer Trefil did but did fully enjoy Livio's "elegant" explanations of some of astronomy's most difficult concepts, which Livio has written in a very understandable language. Although the words he chooses are cleansed of scientific jargon, the ideas he attempts to make sense of are extremely complex. For example, Bryce Christensen, in Booklist pointed out that Livio grapples with the question of whether the universe is indeed an orderly cosmos or chaotic. "Livio probes these questions," wrote Christensen, "with daring sufficient to satisfy the hungriest curiosity."

In 2002 Livio produced another book, The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number. A Kirkus Reviews writer pointed out that Phi, a lesser cousin of Pi, is a "never-ending, never-repeating, irrational, incommensurable, one of those special numbers like pi that confound and delight in the same breath." Livio's interest in this number is to find how often it occurs in nature. He looks at everything from petal and leaf arrangements to seashells to find this mysterious number. It is also duplicated in galaxies of stars and in the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower. To better understand this number, Livio studies its complete history in math and science. He writes about the efforts of architect le Corbusier, who used it in his work, as did artists Salvador Dali and Albrecht Dürer. Livio's efforts, as reported by the Kirkus reviewer is "a shining example of the aesthetics of mathematics." Tara Pepper, of Newsweek International, wrote that Livio's book is filled with quotes from Shakespeare and Keats, Galileo and Einstein. "In the process," the critic added, Livio "succeeds in the unlikely task of bringing a number to life."



Booklist, March 1, 2000, Bryce Christensen, review of The Accelerating Universe: Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos, p. 1182; October 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number, p. 369.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Golden Ratio, pp. 1284-1285.

Library Journal, March 1, 2000, Nancy Curtis, review of The Accelerating Universe, p. 122.

Newsweek International, January 20, 2003, Tara Pepper, review of The Golden Ratio, p. 47.

Publishers Weekly, March 6, 2000, review of The Accelerating Universe, p. 95; September 16, 2002, review of The Golden Ratio, p. 62.

Science News, November 30, 2002, review of The Golden Ratio, p. 351.

Washington Post Book World, July 23, 2000, James Trefil, review of The Accelerating Universe, p. 13.


Space Telescope Science Institute Web site, (January 6, 2003), "Dr. Mario Livio."

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