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SciCafe: When Black Holes Collide

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Black holes are one of the most intriguing phenomena in the universe. They form when stars die and collapse upon themselves, generating such a massive gravitational force that not even light can escape. They are dark against the dark sky. When black holes collide, the energy of the event generates intense gravitational waves. These waves were predicted by Einstein in his theories, but scientists have only recently been able to detect them experimentally. Monumental detectors have been able to record the "songs" of these gravitational waves from space. Barnard College professor and astronomer Janna Levin shares her scientific research on the first recordings of a gravitational wave from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago.


About the Speaker

Janna Levin is the Tow Professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. She has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. She is also director of sciences at Pioneer Works. Her previous books include How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham Prize. She was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow. Her latest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, is the inside story on the discovery of the century: the sound of spacetime ringing from the collision of two black holes over a billion years ago.


Read More

  • Learn more about Janna Levin’s scientific research here
  • Watch Janna Levin’s TED Talk, The Sound the Universe Makes
  • A feature on Science Friday about LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). 
  • Listen to the StarTalk Radio segment on deciphering gravitational waves. 
  • Levin tells a story about life on a Möbius Strip at The Moth.


The SciCafe series is proudly sponsored by Judy and Josh Weston.