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Nifty Fifty – Bring a Top Scientist to your Middle or High School

Dr. MarioLivio

Years Participated: Nifty Fifty 2010, Nifty Fifty 2012, Nifty Fifty 2013/2014, Nifty Fifty 2014/2015

Nominated by
Mario Livio STSI2
Black Holes, Supernovae and Dark Energy –The World of Mario Livio 

Mario Livio is a world-renowned astrophysicist who delves into such mysteries as Black Holes, Dark Energy, supernova explosions and the possibility of intelligent life in the universe, but his road to such lofty scientific study was clouded with strife at an early age as he first learned how to deal with challenges on a more Earthly plane.

As Mario himself writes: “I was born in 1945 in Romania. When I was a few months old, both my parents had to flee Romania for political reasons, and I was left with my grandparents until the age of five. In 1950, most Romanian Jews were pressured to leave, and I immigrated with my grandparents to Israel.”

Later as a young man he served with the Israeli Defense Forces as a paramedic in the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the war in Lebanon in 1982.
Today, widely-recognized as an astrophysicist, astronomer and writer, Mario heads public outreach initiatives at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, which operates the Hubble Space Telescope. Mario, who also has a strong penchant for art and literature, is author of key books that have popularized science, astronomy and mathematics among the general public.

When asked what drives him, Mario replies:”I am driven by a passion to understand the universe, and at the same time driven by an enthusiasm to communicate scientific findings to the public. I strongly believe that science and mathematics should be communicated in the same way that literature and poetry are — as a part of human culture.”
For the past decade Mario has focused his research activities on supernova explosions and their use in determining the rate of expansion of the universe. He has also studied the phenomenon of Dark Energy, Black Holes and the formation of planetary systems around young stars.

Mario earned his B.S. degree in physics and mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an 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 Techion-Israel Institute of Technology before coming to the Spaced Telescope Science Institute.

His major influences as a young student included his high school math teacher. ”It wasn't so much his teaching talents that had impressed me, but his ability to solve difficult problems we used to bring him. Problems that he had never seen before.”
Not surprisingly, Mario has gone on to remarkable heights in mathematics as well as science 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) book won him the Peano Prize and the International Pythagoras Prize for popular books on mathematics. Livio’s most recent book, entitled Is God A Mathematician (2009), was selected by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009.

A self-proclaimed "art fanatic" who owns thousands of art books, Mario also has his eye on the future, especially relating to what science is likely to bring us tomorrow. “ I am convinced that future generations of computers (maybe a hundred years from now) will operate much like the human brain, only better,” he says.

But although the U.S. currently leads the world in science and technology, America’s preeminent position is being threatened by the inroads that foreign countries are making in science education and technology, leading Mario to warn: “The last thing the U.S needs right now is any further detraction from scientific research and the teaching of math and science.”

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