Professor Mario Livio

Colloquia Record

Title Beauty in a Dark Universe
Date 13/5/2005 18:00 pm
Physics Th A

Professor Mario Livio
Carnegie Centennial Professor

This talk is open to the public and will be followed by a wine reception afterwards at 7pm in the foyer of the building.

In 1998, two groups of astronomers presented evidence that the expansion of our universe is accelerating. These findings, and their subsequent confirmation, have enormous implications for cosmology and fundamental physics. Equally important, however, the discovery of accelerating expansion challenges the centuries-old belief that the fundamental theory of the universe must be "beautiful". Is our universe truly accelerating? What does that imply for the cosmic energy density? How do you define "beauty" in a physical theory? In what appears now to be a hopelessly complex universe, is there still room for something like a "Cosmological Aesthetic Principle"?

Prof Livio is a senior astrophysicist and former Head of Science Division at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the institute which conducts the scientific program of the Hubble Space Telescope. Prof Livio is visiting the University of St.Andrews during May 2005 as the Carnegie Centennial Professor, sponsored by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. His Centennial Lecture on Fri 13 May is open to the public, and should be accessible to all who attend.

Background information:

Prof Livio's astrophysics research spans a broad range of topics from cosmology to the emergence of intelligent life. He has done much fundamental work on black holes, their formation, and the possibility to extract energy from them. Prof Livio's recent research focusses 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.

In addition to his scientific interests, Prof Livio is an 'art fanatic' who owns thousands of art books. In the past few years , he combined his passions for science and art in three popular books: "The Accelerating Universe", which appeared in 2000, "The Golden Ratio", which appeared in 2002, and "The Equation that Couldn't Be Solved", that will appear in September 2005. The first book discusses 'beauty' as an essential ingredient in fundamental theories of the universe. The second tells the story of the amazing appearances of the peculiar number 1.618... in nature, the arts, and psychology. The third book explores the role of symmetries in human perception, in science, in visual arts and music, and even in the selection of mates.