Janna Levin

2012 - US & Canada Competition
Natural Sciences - Science Writing



Janna Levin is a theoretical physicist and a writer. She has contributed to an understanding of astrophysical black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime.

Levin integrates scientific themes in both fiction and nonfiction. Her second book—a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines (Knopf, 2006)—won the PEN/Bingham Fellowship for Writers that "honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose debut work . . . represents distinguished literary achievement." It was also a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway award for "a distinguished book of first fiction." She is the author of the popular-science book How the Universe Got Its Spots.

Follow this link to view "The Sound of the Universe," a talk with Janna Levin on Ted.com

Follow this link to view "Listening to Black Holes," on YouTube.

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    Black holes may be heard but not seen. As the death state of a star, black holes emit no light. They are dark against the dark sky. But like mallets on a drum, colliding black holes create waves in spacetime -- gravitational waves. There is no sound in empty space, but monumental Earth-based detectors such as LIGO will measure the waving shape of space and amplify the result as sound. In the next few years, the sounds from space will be recorded for the first time in human history thereby turning up the volume on the soundtrack to the Universe. The movie shows a mathematical prediction for the orbit of a black hole falling into another black hole and plays the banging sound the merging pair emits.