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Jacob David Bekenstein (Hebrew: יעקב בקנשטיין‬; May 1, 1947 – August 16, 2015) was a Mexican-born Israeli-American theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the foundation of black hole thermodynamics and to other aspects of the connections between information and gravitation.[1]

Jacob Bekenstein
Bekenstein100 (cropped).JPG
Jacob Bekenstein in 2009
Born (1947-05-01)May 1, 1947
Mexico City, Mexico
Died August 16, 2015(2015-08-16) (aged 68)
Helsinki, Finland
Citizenship Mexican
Alma mater Princeton University
Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
Known for Black hole thermodynamics
Scientific career
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Doctoral advisor John Wheeler



Bekenstein was born in Mexico City in 1947, to parents Joseph and Esther (née Vladaslavotsky), Polish Jews who had migrated to Mexico.[2] He moved to the United States during his early life, gaining U.S. citizenship in 1968.[3] He was also a citizen of Israel.[4]

As a student, Bekenstein attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now known as the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, obtaining both an undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in 1969. He went on to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton University, working under the direction of John Archibald Wheeler, in 1972.[5]

By 1972, Bekenstein was already making a name for himself in the field of theoretical physics. He published three groundbreaking and influential papers regarding the black hole stellar phenomenon, which was not well understood at the time, postulating the no-hair theorem and coming up with a theory on black hole thermodynamics that year. In the years to come, Bekenstein continued his exploration of black holes, publishing papers on their entropy and quantum mass, among other subjects.[4]

Bekenstein was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin from 1972 to 1974. He then moved to Israel to lecture and teach at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, becoming a full professor by 1978 and head of the astrophysics department by 1983. He left Ben-Gurion University to become a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1990, becoming head of its theoretical physics department three years later.[4] He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1997.[6] He was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2009 and 2010.[7]

In addition to his lectures and residencies around the world,[5] Bekenstein continued to serve as Polak professor of theoretical physics at the Hebrew University up until his death at the age of 68, in Helsinki, Finland.[8] He died unexpectedly on August 16, 2015, just months after receiving the American Physical Society's Einstein Prize "for his ground-breaking work on black hole entropy, which launched the field of black hole thermodynamics and transformed the long effort to unify quantum mechanics and gravitation."[3][6][9]

Major contributions to physicsEdit

In 1972, Bekenstein was the first to suggest that black holes should have a well-defined entropy. He wrote that a black hole's entropy was proportional to the area of its (the black hole's) event horizon. Bekenstein also formulated the generalized second law of thermodynamics, black hole thermodynamics, for systems including black holes. Both contributions were affirmed when Stephen Hawking (and, independently, Zeldovich and others) proposed the existence of Hawking radiation two years later. Hawking had initially opposed Bekenstein's idea on the grounds that a black hole could not radiate energy and therefore could not have entropy.[10][11] However, in 1974, Hawking performed a lengthy calculation that convinced him that particles can indeed be emitted from black holes. Today this is known as Hawking radiation. Bekenstein's doctoral adviser, John Archibald Wheeler, also worked with him to develop the no-hair theorem, a reference to Wheeler's saying that "black holes have no hair," in the early 1970s.[12] Bekenstein was the first physicist to postulate such a theorem. His suggestion was proven to be unstable, but it was influential in the development of the field.[13][14]

Based on his black-hole thermodynamics work, Bekenstein also demonstrated the Bekenstein bound: there is a maximum to the amount of information that can potentially be stored in a given finite region of space which has a finite amount of energy (which is similar to the holographic principle).[15]

In 1982, Bekenstein was the first person to develop a rigorous framework to generalize the laws of electromagnetism to handle inconstant physical constants. His framework replaces the fine-structure constant by a scalar field. However, this framework for changing constants did not incorporate gravity.[16]

In 2004, Bekenstein greatly boosted Mordehai Milgrom's theory of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) by developing a relativistic version. It is known as TeVeS for Tensor/Vector/Scalar and it introduces three different fields in space time to replace the one gravitational field.[17]

Personal lifeEdit

Bekenstein had three children with his wife, Bilha. All three children, Yehonadav, Uriya and Rivka Bekenstein, became scientists.[2] Bekenstein was known as a religious man and a believer, being quoted as saying: "I look at the world as a product of God, He set very specific laws and we delight in discovering them through scientific work."[18]




  1. ^ Wald, Robert M. (1 December 2015). "Jacob David Bekenstein". Physics Today. 68 (12): 68. Bibcode:2015PhT....68l..68W. doi:10.1063/PT.3.3029. 
  2. ^ a b Overbye, Dennis (August 21, 2015). "Jacob Bekenstein, Physicist Who Revolutionized Theory of Black Holes, Dies at 68". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Jacob Bekenstein, Black Hole Pioneer and Hebrew University Physicist, Has Died". Jspace. August 18, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Curriculum vitae" (PDF). The Racah Institute of Physics. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Professor Jacob Bekenstein" (PDF). The University of Texas at San Antonio. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d "2015 Einstein Prize Recipient". Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  7. ^ Institute for Advanced Study: A Community of Scholars Archived January 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Nouwen, Arie (August 18, 2015). "Natuurkundige Jacob Bekenstein overleden" (in Dutch). Astroblogs. Archived from the original on August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  9. ^ Ouellette, Jennifer (August 17, 2015). "In Memoriam: Jacob Bekenstein (1947–2015) and Black Hole Entropy". Scientific American. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  10. ^ Overbye, Dennis, Jacob Bekenstein, Physicist, dies at 68; revolutionized the study of black holes, New York Times, August 22, 2015, p.B7
  11. ^ Levi Julian, Hana (September 3, 2012). "'40 Years of Black Hole Thermodynamics' in Jerusalem". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved September 8, 2012. 
  12. ^ The Big Bang: A View from the 21st Century (2003) by David M. Harland, pp. 227–8, ISBN 978-1852337131
  13. ^ Toubal, Wahiba (2010). "No-Hair Theorems and introduction to Hairy Black Holes" (PDF). Imperial College London. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ Mayo, Avraham; Bekenstein, Jacob (1996), "No hair for spherical black holes: charged and nonminimally coupled scalar field with self−interaction", Physical Review D, 54 (8), arXiv:gr-qc/9602057 , Bibcode:1996PhRvD..54.5059M, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.54.5059 
  15. ^ Freiberger, Marianne (November 3, 2014). "The limits of information". +plus Magazine. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  16. ^ Possibilities in Parallel: Seeking the Multiverse (2013) by the editors of Scientific American, ISBN 9781466842519
  17. ^ Bekenstein, J. D. (2004), "Relativistic gravitation theory for the modified Newtonian dynamics paradigm", Physical Review D, 70 (8): 083509, arXiv:astro-ph/0403694 , Bibcode:2004PhRvD..70h3509B, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.70.083509 
  18. ^ "Jacob Bekenstein, towering theoretical physicist who studied black holes, dies at 68". 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Prof. Jack Bekenstein" (PDF). World Cultural Council. Retrieved August 18, 2015. [permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "Israel Prize Judges' Rationale for the award (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on June 29, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Jacob D. Bekenstein Winner of Wolf Prize in Physics – 2012". 

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