science | February 10, 2016

The Music of the Cosmos: Janna Levin and Songs from Outer Space

After decades of searching, scientists have finally detected gravitational waves from black holes—a discovery that confirms another aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and marks a moment in science comparable to the discovery of the Higgs particle or the DNA sequence. For Lavin keynote speaker Janna Levin, this revelation also heralds the release of her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space: described as “a fascinating, firsthand history of the scientific pursuit to detect gravitational waves: the holy grail of modern cosmology, the soundtrack of the universe.”

“If what we witnessed before was a silent movie,” Levin tells The New Yorker, “gravitational waves turn our universe into a talkie.” A professor of astrophysics at Barnard College and Columbia University—and author of the previous books A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines and How the Universe Got Its Spots—Levin grounds her talks on the farthest reaches of cosmology with relatable stories about discovery, dedication, and creativity. Hers is an infectious enthusiasm, and one we can’t help but share as we now hear, for the first time, the audio ‘ringdown’ of black holes, and the natural music of the stars (“I was freaking out,” she tells The New York Times).

Be sure to watch for Levin’s Black Hole Blues—what Alan Lightman calls “smart, hip, and resonant with the sounds of scientists at work”—this spring 2016.