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Mario Livio (born 1945) is an Israeli-American astrophysicist and an author of works that popularize science and mathematics. From 1991 till 2015 he was an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope. He is perhaps best known for his book on the irrational number phi: The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number (2002). The book won the Peano Prize and the International Pythagoras Prize for popular books on mathematics.

Mario Livio
Mario Livio 22 Sep 2013 National Book Festival.jpg
Speaking on 22 September 2013 on the National Mall in Washington, DC during the 2013 National Book Festival
Born1945 (age 73–74)
Alma materTel Aviv University
Weizmann Institute
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Known forTheory of Type Ia Supernovae
Brilliant Blunders (2013)
Is God a Mathematician? (2009)
The Equation that couldn't be solved (2005)
The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number (2002)
Scientific career
InstitutionsSpace Telescope Science Institute
Technion – Israel Institute of Technology


Life and scientific careerEdit

Livio was born in Bucharest in Romania, and lived with his grandparents when his mother and father were forced to flee the country for political reasons.[1] He left Romania at age five with his grandparents, and the family settled in Israel. He served with the Israeli Defense Forces as a paramedic in the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the 1982 Lebanon War.

Livio earned a B.S. degree in physics and mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a M.S. degree in theoretical particle physics at the Weizmann Institute, and a Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics at Tel Aviv University. He was a professor of physics at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology from 1981 to 1991, before moving to the Space Telescope Science Institute.

From 2000 Livio focused his research on supernova explosions and their use in determining the rate of expansion of the universe. He has also studied so-called dark energy, black holes, and the formation of planetary systems around young stars. He has contributed to hundreds of papers in peer-reviewed journals on astrophysics. In 2009, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Council elected him as a Fellow of the AAAS. Livio was cited for his "distinguished contributions to astrophysics through research on stars and galaxies and through communicating and interpreting science and mathematics to the public."[2] He is also cited in the American Men and Women of Science.

Livio has been nominated three times by the USA Science and Engineering Festival as one of the "Nifty Fifty Speakers" to talk about his work and career to middle and high school students in 2010, 2011, and 2013.[3] Other honors include: Carnegie Centenary Professor in 2003, Danz Distinguished Lecturer in 2006, Resnick Distinguished Lecturer in 2006, Iben Distinguished Lecturer in 2008, and Terzian Distinguished Lecturer in 2011.

Livio and his wife Sofie, a microbiologist, have three children.

Popular worksEdit

For almost twenty years Livio has popularized astronomy and mathematics through books, lectures, magazine articles, and radio and television appearances. He has delivered popular lectures at TEDxMidAtlantic on YouTube, the Smithsonian Institution, the Hayden Planetarium, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the Glasgow Science Centre. He has appeared on radio and TV outlets including PBS, NPR and CBS to discuss scientific and mathematical subjects.

Livio's first book of popular science was The Accelerating Universe (2000), which explained in layman's terms the theory that the universe was expanding at a faster and faster rate. He explored the possible causes and the theoretical implications of continuing expansion, especially its implications for beliefs about the "beauty" of the scientific laws that govern the cosmos.

A self-described "art fanatic" who owns hundreds of art books, Livio put this interest to good use in his next book on patterns in nature and art, The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi (2002). He traced the influence of the golden ratio through many centuries of art, architecture, music, and even stock market theories. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, endorsed the book stating, "Livio unveils the history and mystery of the remarkable number phi in such a way that math-buffs and math-phobes alike can celebrate her wonder ... you will never again look at a pyramid, pinecone or Picasso in the same light."[citation needed]

The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved (2005) explains how efforts to solve the quintic equation led to group theory and to the mathematics of symmetry. He emphasizes the crucial roles of Évariste Galois and Niels Henrik Abel in developing this branch of mathematics. He also "keeps the hard stuff to a minimum," in the words of a Publishers Weekly review. The book contains biographical sketches of Galois, Abel and several other mathematicians.

Is God A Mathematician? was released on January 6, 2009. It discusses the uncanny ability of mathematics to describe and predict accurately the physical world. Livio also attempts to answer a question with which mathematicians and philosophers have struggled for centuries: Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? The book was selected by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009, and it was also selected as a "2009 Borders Original Voices" finalist.

Brilliant Blunders (2013) summarizes serious mistakes by five notable figures in science: Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein.

His latest book (July 2017) is Why? What Makes Us Curious.



  1. ^ "Mario Livio - Mysteries of an Expanding Universe". On Being with Krista Tippett. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  2. ^ NASA and STScI (18 December 2009). "STScI Senior Astrophysicist Mario Livio Elected AAAS Fellow". Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  3. ^ "Black Holes, Supernovae and Dark Energy –The World of Mario Livio". Nifty Fifty. Retrieved 27 September 2013.
  4. ^ "Review: The Accelerating Universe by Mario Livio, foreword by Allan Sandage". Publishers Weekly. 28 February 2000.
  5. ^ Markowsky, George (March 2005). "Review: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio" (PDF). Notices of the AMS. 52 (3): 344–347.
  6. ^ Schattschneider, Doris (July 2007). "Review: The Equation that Couldn't be Solved, author Mario Livio". Convergence. Mathematical Association of America.
  7. ^ Kaufman, Marc (8 February 2009). "Review: Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio". Washington Post.
  8. ^ Zimmer, Carl (7 June 2013). "Review: Brilliant Blunders by Mario Livio". NY Times.
  9. ^ Sample, Ian (15 February 2017). "Churchill essay on the possibility of alien life discovered in US college". The Guardian.

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