May 28, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Israeli astrophysicist Mario Livio.Is God a Mathematician? This is the question that Israeli astrophysicist and best-selling author Mario Livio has been asking in his new book, The Equation that Couldn’t Be Solved. After penning the popular The Golden Ratio, Livio now living in the US, is wondering about the power of math as a universal language. Why is math used to explain everything from the stock market to biology?

“It’s not a book about God,” says Livio, “In it, I am trying to see the relation between numbers and the cosmos.” To be released by Simon & Schuster in January, if anyone in the world is qualified to write such a book it would have to be Livio, a senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute, and the previous head of the Institute’s Science Division.

Considered the world’s expert on the Hubble Space Telescope, Livio peers into the heavens on a regular basis and develops from the telescope’s observations theories about the expansion of our universe and about planets outside our solar system. Lately, he’s had to defend the aging telescope, as its fate hangs in the balance.

He tells ISRAEL21c by telephone, “I was interviewed by 60 Minutes and they asked me if the Hubble Telescope was worth $7 billion.” That sum, explains Livio, is the cost for the entire lifetime of the telescope project. The project has made it possible for non-astronomers to “see” and understand outer space like nothing before it.

How did Livio respond — “Well I said, it gave us the universe – so it’s cheap. Seven billion is a lot of money, but a submarine costs a few billion dollars,” he says.

A collector of art books, Livio doesn’t see the worlds of science and art, which he is bridging through his own writing, as parallel universes: “If the two fields were really parallel we would have more scientists interested in art, and artists in science and we don’t have too many that do that,” he reasons. “But both scientists and artists have certain curiosities in the world about them,” he adds.

Livio always knew that he wanted to be a scientist, but when he was just starting out he could never have imagined that he’d become the internationally renowned astrophysicist, lecturer and author he is today.

Before moving to the US in 1991, Livio served in the Israeli army as a medic and paratrooper, an esteemed position. Educated and trained at Israel’s four leading science institutions, Livio has a first degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an MSc in physics at the Weizmann Institute and a PhD in theoretical astrophysics at Tel Aviv University.

He was a professor of physics at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology before moving to the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in 1991. Sofie, a microbiologist is his wife, and together they have three children Sharon, Oren, and Maya. It’s important to add that, he says.

His previous book The Golden Ratio, made the rounds among scientists and artists. Discussing the mathematical symmetry in science, music and the arts, the book delved into concepts such as mate selection and sexual attraction. It became a bestseller in both Hebrew, the original language it was written, and its translation to English.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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