Remarkable science deserves remarkable support

Sponsored by the Hertz Foundation


Before You Start a Project, Do Your Best to Kill It

Astro Teller is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. Teller is now the CEO, aka ‘Captain of Moonshots’, at the innovation factory simply called X (formerly Google X). In this video, he illuminates a critical difference: when undertaking a project, do you want to feel you’ve accomplished something, or do you actuallywant to accomplish it? With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

How a Math Algorithm Could Educate the Whole World – for Free

Po-Shen Loh is a Hertz Foundation Fellow, Princeton-educated mathematician, Carnegie Mellon professor, the head coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad team, and now he’s adding start-up entrepreneur to his knock-out resume. Loh has created Expii, a math and science education tool that aims to turn every smartphone into a tutor. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in combinatorics at the Pure Math Department at Princeton University.


The Hertz Foundation

mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Smart Tech: Phones, Drones, and Interior Mapping

Avideh Zakor is a

Hertz Foundation Fellow

and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. From helping emergency rescue teams navigate in times of crisis, says Zakhor, to boosting our comfort with Smart Homes, the future of domestic and office tech will be built on the data blueprints of our spaces. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, she pursued a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Eradicating Malaria: The End Game Relies on Scientific Alliances

Philip Eckhoff is a

Hertz Foundation Fellow

and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. Eckhoff is Principal Investigator of the disease modeling team at Intellectual Ventures. In this video, he explains what is involved in total global eradication of malaria and how interdisciplinary collaboration is the key to out-thinking and out-maneuvering this disease. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in applied and computational mathematics at Princeton University, receiving his degree in doctorate in 2009.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Brain Science: Optogenetics and Expansion Microscopy

Edward Boyden is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. A professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, Edward Boyden explains how expansion microscopy is helping us to understand how the brain is wired, and how human therapies will benefit. He also tackles optogenetics — a technology that controls cells with light — which he hopes will restore the eyesight of the blind, dial back Alzheimer’s disease, and shut down epilepsy seizures. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in neurosciences from Stanford University.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

What Has Astrophysics Done For You Lately?

Alex Filippenko is a

Hertz Foundation Fellow

and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. Where does UC Berkeley Professor Filippenko begin to explain the importance of astronomy? In this video he explores how it captures the attention of children, who then grow up to become scientists across all disciplines; and the more abstract, impractical research that eventually leads to spinoff technology that radically changes our lives. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, Filippenko pursued a PhD in astronomy at the California Institute of Technology.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Can Innovation Save the Fossil Fuel Industry?

If Modern Electron, an energy innovation startup co-founded by Max Mankin, could make fossil fuels just 1% more efficient it would equal the entire contribution from all the solar panels across the world. The team’s mission is to generate cheap, modular, and reliable electricity for all. Max Mankin is a Hertz Foundation fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in chemistry at Harvard University. The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.


How a Former Google Lab Plans to Disrupt the Ownership Economy

If the future, your buffalo chicken wings will fly to you. Drone delivery is going to bring so much more than food, however; these aeronautical robots will, in time, herald the end of private ownership in favor of a sharing economy. And thus, Astro Teller explains why your next home will need a drone landing pad.


Astro Teller is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University.

The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Anyone Can Be a Math Person Once They Know the Best Learning Techniques

Po-Shen Loh is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and Carnegie Mellon mathematics professor who thinks that history is a much harder subject than math. Do you agree? Well, your position on that might change before and after this video. Loh illuminates the invisible ladders within the world of math, and shows that it isn't about memorizing formulas—it's about processing reason and logic. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, Po-Shen Loh pursued a PhD in combinatorics at the Pure Math Department at Princeton University.


The Hertz Foundation

mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

How a Smarter Toilet Could Save Millions of Lives a Year

In 2011, a research team featuring several Hertz Foundation Fellows received a grant to participate in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Reinvent the Toilet Challenge’. To bring sustainable sanitation to the 2.5 billion people globally who don’t have access to safe toilets, which leads to millions of deaths each year from highly preventable diseases, this team developed a self-powered combustion toilet that transforms feces into biological charcoal (biochar), clean water, and minerals. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, epidemiologist Philip Eckhoff pursued a PhD in applied and computational mathematics at Princeton University, receiving his degree in 2009.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Humanity Relies on Two Kinds of Science — But Only One Gets the Big Bucks

Avideh Zakhor is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. Here, she illuminates the difference between 'big science', which draws multiple billions in funding, versus 'little science', which are the seed ideas for our future technology — and the ones that are suffering from science funding cuts. Zakhor insists that Capitol Hill, not Silicon Valley or venture capitalists, must fund little science as the government is in a better position to foster long-term innovation. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, she pursued a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

Hybrid Intelligence: Coupling AI and the Human Brain

Edward Boyden is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. A professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, Edward Boyden explains how humanity is only at its infancy in merging with machines. His work is leading him towards the development of a "brain co-processor", a device that interacts intimately with the brain to upload and download information to and from it, augmenting human capabilities in memory storage, decision making, and cognition. The first step, however, is understanding the brain on a much deeper level. With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, Ed Boyden pursued a PhD in neurosciences from Stanford University.


The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.

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  • Shares of Beyond Meat opened at around $200 on Tuesday morning, falling to nearly $170 by the afternoon.
  • Wall Street analysts remain wary of the stock, which has been on a massive hot streak since its IPO in May.
  • Beyond Meat faces competition from Impossible Foods and, as of this week, Tyson.


Shares of Beyond Meat soared Tuesday after the company announced plans to sell a ground-beef product called 'Beyond Beef' in grocery stores nationwide.

On Tuesday morning, Beyond Meat (BYND) opened at about $200, but by the afternoon fell to $170. The drop was partly fueled by Wall Street analysts saying the company is overvalued. (For context, the highest price target among analysts is currently $123.) Still, Beyond Meat is trading far above its initial public offering price of $25, and analysts seem generally optimistic about the company over the long term.

"Despite the valuation considerations, we continue to expect significant growth potential in the plant-based meat category and believe that Beyond Meat is well positioned as one of the frontrunners leading the new wave of plant-based meat products," said Bernstein, the Wall Street research and brokerage firm.

"Come be among the first to try this delicious new product that delivers the versatility, meaty texture and juiciness of ground beef with less of the baggage!" the company wrote in an Instagram post.

Beyond Meat says its new product is "versatile enough to use in any ground beef recipe," and that it will tenderize and marbelize just like real meat. Last week, the company debuted a new burger patty that contains cocoa butter and coconut oil, which create a marbling effect when cooked. Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told CNN Business his company will probably continue to issue new products and improve upon existing ones.

"It's part of our philosophy and our approach to innovation that we're going to be constantly iterating," he said.

Brown echoed similar thoughts on a call with analysts following Beyond Meat's first-quarter earnings results.

"I am maniacally focused on driving this business forward through innovation," he said. "I have no distraction with an incumbent business, no concerns about upsetting my existing supply chain."

The alternative meat war

But Impossible Foods – Beyond Meat's chief competitor – is also vying to dominate the alternative meat industry.

"They've both publicly stated that their goal is to really reach every single person," Zak Weston, a food service analyst at the Good Food Institute, told Marketplace.

What's more, Impossible Foods might be more popular.

"Based on our search volume data, it is clear that the Impossible Burger is much more popular among consumers than the Beyond Meat burger," Olga Andrienko, head of global marketing at SEMrush, told MarketWatch. "While search volume cannot determine causation, the significant difference in consumer interest for one of its main competitors, the Impossible Burger, points to a larger long-term risk for Beyond Meat in addition to its recent losses on Wall Street."

Tyson – the world's second largest processor – also debuted new alternative meat products this week under the Raised & Rooted brand. Ultimately, the winner of the alternative meat war will likely come down to which company can better mimic the taste, texture and appearance of real meat. After all, these companies aren't advertising primarily to vegans or vegetarians – they're going after carnivores.

  • The study estimated psychopathy prevalence by looking at the prevalence of certain traits in the Big Five model of personality.
  • The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of psychopathy, compared to other areas.
  • The authors cautioned that their measurements were indirect, and that psychopathy in general is difficult to define precisely.


A new study estimated the prevalence of psychopathy in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.

How can you identify psychopaths? It's difficult, but research provides a few clues, such as that psychopathic tendencies are more common in:

  • Men
  • Younger people
  • Professions such as CEOs, lawyers and politicians

Psychologists have used different diagnostic tools to measure psychopathy over the decades. Today, the leading tool is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), which measures traits such as pathological lying, impulsivity, parasitic lifestyle and lack of remorse or guilt. But psychopathy can be measured in other, more indirect ways, too.

One example is the triarchic model of psychopathy, which says the disorder stems from a combination of the personality traits disinhibition, boldness and meanness. In the recent study, the researchers used that triarchic definition of psychopathy, but mapped it onto the Big Five model of personality, which includes the traits conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness.

"Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness," the researchers write.

To measure psychopathy across the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the researchers used state-level Big Five data from a previous study. The results consistently showed that people in rural areas tended to be less psychopathic, while urban areas were more psychopathic. Scoring highest in psychopathy, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the District of Columbia.

"The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained either by its very high population density or by the type of person who may be drawn to a literal seat of power," the researchers wrote.

Regionally, psychopathy was clustered in the Northeast, with Maine as the most psychopathic state. Some psychologists have described the Northeast as "Temperamental and Uninhibited." In terms of the Big Five personality traits, the researchers wrote that this translates to "low extraversion, very low agreeableness and conscientiousness, very high neuroticism, and moderately high openness."

The researchers also compared the Big Five data to four variables that relate to psychopathy: homicide rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate and percentage of residents living in an urban area. Only the share of residents living in an urban area had a significant relationship with the personality data.

Ultimately, the researchers cautioned that their methodology was indirect, and that "some amount of noise will inevitably be captured in the results."

"The meaningfulness of the results found here is contingent on both the translation of Big Five personality traits into psychopathy and that psychopathy is something that can be conceptualized as a statistical aggregate across people," they wrote. "And if the estimates are conceptually meaningful, the question remains of whether the size of the differences across regions is practically significant. The weak relationships found in the data can themselves be interpreted as support for skepticism, but whether that interpretation is correct requires further research beyond the scope of the presentation of this methodology and results."

What's more, psychopathy lies on a spectrum. The researchers note that "a very small percentage of individuals in any given state may actually be true psychopaths." According to the Hare checklist, about 1 percent of the general population qualifies as psychopathic.

Here's how the recent study ranked the 48 contiguous states:

1. Maine

2. Connecticut

3. New York

4. Maryland

5. Massachusetts

6. Delaware

7. Wyoming

8. New Jersey

9. California

10. Nevada

11. Virginia

12. Rhode Island

13. Illinois

14. Ohio

15. Wisconsin

16. Arkansas

17. Pennsylvania

18. Arizona

19. Louisiana

20. Idaho

21. Colorado

22. South Dakota

23. Texas

24. Kansas

25. Iowa

26. New Hampshire

27. North Dakota

28. Florida

29. Washington

30. Kentucky

31. Michigan

32. Alabama

33. Oregon

34. Minnesota

35. Utah

36. Indiana

37. Missouri

38. Vermont

39. Montana

40. New Mexico

41. West Virginia

42. Oklahoma

43. Georgia

44. South Carolina

45. Nebraska

46. Mississippi

47. Tennessee

48. North Carolina

  • Composed of massive filaments of galaxies separated by giant voids, the cosmic web is the name astronomers give to the structure of our universe.
  • Why does our universe have this peculiar, web-like structure?
  • The answer lies in processes that took place in the first few hundred thousands years after the Big Bang.


Looking up at the night sky, it seems as though the stars and galaxies are spread out in a more or less random fashion. This, however, isn't really the case. The universe isn't a random jumble of objects; it has a structure composed of galaxies and gas. Cosmologists call this structure the cosmic web.

The cosmic web is composed of interconnecting filaments of clustered galaxies and gases stretched out across the universe and separated by giant voids. The largest of these filaments that we have found to date is the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall, which is a staggering 10 billion light years long and contains several billion galaxies. As for the voids, the largest is the Keenan, Barger, and Cowie (KBC) void, which has a diameter of 2 billion light years. Within a segment of the spherical KBC void lies the Milky Way galaxy and our planet.

Altogether, these features give the universe a foamy appearance. However, once you zoom out far enough, this pattern disappears, and the universe appears to be a homogeneous chunk of galaxies. Astronomers have a delightful name for this sudden homogeneity — the End of Greatness. At smaller scales, however, we can see that the universe does indeed have a rather magnificent structure. This begs the question: How did this structure come to be?

It starts with a bang

Space itself has fluctuating energy levels. Incredibly small pairs of particles and anti-particles are spontaneously coming into existence and annihilating each other. This "boiling" of space was happening in the early universe as well. Normally, these particle pairs destroy each other, but the rapid expansion of the early universe prevented that from happening. As space expanded, so too did these fluctuations, causing discrepancies in the density of the universe.

Wikimedia Commons

A visualization of quantum fluctuations.

Because matter attracts matter through gravity, these discrepancies explain why matter clumped together in some places and not others. But this doesn't fully explain the structure of the cosmic web. After the inflationary period (roughly, 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang), the universe was full of primordial plasma clumping together due to the aforementioned discrepancies. As this matter clumped together, it created pressure that counteracted gravity, creating ripples akin to a sound wave in the matter of the universe. Physicists call these ripples baryon acoustic oscillations.

Simply put, these ripples are the product of regular matter and dark matter. Dark matter only interacts with other things through gravity, so the pressure that causes these ripples doesn't affect it — it stays at the center of ripple, not moving. Regular matter, however, is pushed out. A little under 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe has cooled enough such that the pressure pushing the matter out is released through a process called photon decoupling.

Zosia Rostomian, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

An artist's illustration of the rings formed by baryon acoustic oscillations.

As a result, the matter is locked into place. Some regular matter finds its way back to the center of the ripple due to the gravitational attraction of the dark matter. The result is a bullseye: Matter in the middle and matter in a ring around the middle. Because of this, physicists know that you're more likely to find a galaxy 500 million light years away from another galaxy than you are to find one 400 or 600 million light years away. Simply put, galaxies tend to be found at the outer rings of these cosmic bullseyes.

Altogether, these processes produced the gigantic web of stuff that compose our universe. Of course, there are many other processes that go into producing the cosmic web, but these fall outside the scope of this article. For those of you interested in observing what this structure would look like, you're in luck: astronomer Bruno Coutinho and colleagues developed an interactive, 3D visualization of the universe's structure, which you can access here.

The Cosmic Web, or: What does the universe look like at a VERY large scale?

The Millennium Simulation featured in this clip was run in 2005 by the Virgo Consortium, an international group of astrophysicists from Germany, the United K...

  • A new study asked hundreds of participants what advice they would give their younger selves if they could.
  • The subject matter tended to cluster around familiar areas of regret.
  • The test subjects reported that they did start following their own advice later in life, and that it changed them for the better.

Everybody regrets something; it seems to be part of the human condition. Ideas and choices that sounded good at the time can look terrible in retrospect. Almost everybody has a few words of advice for their younger selves they wish they could give.

Despite this, there has never been a serious study into what advice people would give their younger selves until now.

Let me give me a good piece of advice

The study, by Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University and published in The Journal of Social Psychology, asked several hundred volunteers, all of whom were over the age of 30, to answer a series of questions about themselves. One of the questions asked them what advice they would give their younger selves. Their answers give us a look into what areas of life everybody wishes they could have done better in.

Previous studies have shown that regrets tend to fall into six general categories. The answers on this test can be similarly organized into five groups:

  • Money (Save more money, younger me!)
  • Relationships (Don't marry that money grabber! Find a nice guy to settle down with.)
  • Education (Finish school. Don't study business because people tell you to, you'll hate it.)
  • A sense of self (Do what you want to do. Never mind what others think.)
  • Life goals (Never give up. Set goals. Travel more.)

These pieces of advice were well represented in the survey. Scrolling through them, most of the advice people would give themselves verges on the cliché in these areas. It is only the occasional weight of experience seeping through advice that can otherwise be summed up as "don't smoke," "don't waste your money," or "do what you love," that even makes it readable.

A few bits of excellent counsel do manage to slip through. Some of the better ones included:

  • "Money is a social trap."
  • "What you do twice becomes a habit; be careful of what habits you form."
  • "I would say do not ever base any decisions on fear."

The study also asked if the participants have started following the advice they wish they could have given themselves. 65.7% of them said "yes" and that doing so had helped them become the person they want to be rather than what society tells them they should be. Perhaps it isn't too late for everybody to start taking their own advice.

Kowalski and McCord write:

"The results of the current studies suggest that, rather than just writing to Dear Abby, we should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves. The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate well-being and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice."

  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.

While black holes may well be points in space into which everything falls and from which even light can't escape, the image many of us have of an ever-growing nonstop universe-eater may not be so. Stephen Hawking didn't think it was. He theorized that black holes eventually evaporate as a byproduct of the gradual release of tiny bits of radiation now known as "Hawking radiation". Such emissions are too faint for us to observe from so far away, but now the behavior of an artificial, lab-created black hole of sorts has lent support to Hawking's theory. There's nothing about this story that isn't interesting. For one thing, this man-made "black hole" is made of sound. It's also formed inside some always-bizarre Bose-Einstein condensate.

What Hawking predicted

Photo: Bruno Vincent/Getty

Physicist Stephen Hawking.

While it's known that photons can't escape the pull of a black hole, Hawking's equations, intolerant of absolute nothingness, suggested "empty" space is actually full of virtual quantum matter/antimatter pairs that blink into existence, and immediately annihilate each other thanks to their opposite electrical charges, quickly blinking out again.

Hawking proposed that when virtual pairs pop into existence near a black hole, though, they're torn apart by the pull of the black hole, with the antimatter being sucked in while the matter shoots off into space — at this point, they're no longer virtual, but real, particles. The negative charge belonging to the antimatter particles reduces the energy and mass of the black hole that's absorbed it by a tiny amount — however, when a black hole ingests enough of these, it evaporates. The positively charged particles fly away as what's now called "Hawking radiation." It would be very weak, but nonetheless there.

Hawking also predicted that the radiation emitted would exhibit a continuous thermal spectrum rather than discreet light wavelengths preferred by individual escaping photons. The temperature of the spectrum would be determined instead by the black hole's mass.

Part of the problem in testing Hawking's theories was summarized by physicist Silke Weinfurtner, who has written:

"The temperature that is associated with Hawking radiation, known as the Hawking temperature, is inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole. And for the smallest observed black holes, which have a mass similar to that of the Sun, this temperature is about 60 nanokelvin. Hawking radiation therefore produces a tiny signal, and it would seem that the phenomenon cannot be verified through observation."

The analogue black hole in Haifa

Image source: Technion–Israel Institute of Technology

Physicist Jeff Steinhauer.

Experimental physicist Jeff Steinhauer of Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, has been working alone in his lab for years creating sonic "black holes" that suck in and trap sound waves. (He's a drummer, too.) Physicist William Unruh of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, first proposed the creation of a sound-wave black-hole replica in 1981 as a safe way of observing the behavior of the stellar version. (After all, creating a real black hole in a lab or anywhere nearby could lead to The End of Life as We Know It.)

Steinhauer's black-hole replica was "constructed" within a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), an extremely strange form of matter in which atoms are cooled to a temperature vanishingly close to absolute zero. At this temperature, there's so little energy available that atoms barely move at all in relation to each other, and thus the entire superfluid begins to behave as one big, unified atom. Within such a frigid condensate, weak quantum fluctuations occur, and these produce pairs of entangled phonons, compressional waves that can create the air-pressure changes we perceive as sound.

Working with a cigar-shaped trap just a few millimeters long, Steinhauer cooled some 8,000 iridium atoms into a BEC. Inside it, the speed of sound, the rate at which the condensate flowed, dropped from 343 meters per second to an almost stationary half a millimeter per second. Reducing the density of one area of the BEC to allow atoms to travel at 1 millimeter per second, though he created a supersonic region — at least compared to the lower speed in the rest of the condensate, that is. Its comparatively rapid current overwhelmed and pulled in any high-energy phonons that came near its event horizon, thus trapping them.

In August, Steinhauer published a paper in Nature that documented his observation of phonons emerging from his artificial black hole in line with Hawking's predictions. Steinhauer reports entangled phonon pairs popping into existence together equidistant across the condensate's event horizon and behaving much as Hawking predicted: One pulled over the supersonic waterfall and trapped in the supersonic region, and the other escaping outward, away from it, just as Hawking radiation would do. The symmetry in the number of phonons inside and outside the event horizon further supported their entangled beginnings and eventual separation, as in Hawking's prediction.

On top of that, the aggregate radiated phonons did indeed produce a thermal spectrum determined by the system's analogue to gravity/mass, which in this model's case was the relationship between the speed of sound and the flow of the BEC, and not individual phonons' sonic wavelengths.

Analogies are usually imperfect

Image source: Alex Farias/Shutterstock

While the behavior of Steinhauer's phonons in his black hole analogue certainly supports the plausibility of Hawking's hypothesis, it doesn't constitute proof. His experiment deals with sound and phonons instead of light and photons, and obviously operates on an entirely different scale than a real black hole — and scale does matter in quantum physics. Still, it's fascinating.

Theoretical physicist Renaud Parentani enthuses to Live Science, "These experiments are a tour de force. It's a very precise experiment. From the experimental side, Jeff Steinhauer is really, at the moment, the world-leading expert of using cold atoms to probe black hole physics." Other aren't as impressed. Speaking with Nature, physicist Ulf Leonhardt says that while, "For sure, this is a pioneering paper," he considers it incomplete, however, in part because Steinhauer was only able to correlate phonons of high energy across the event horizon, and didn't find that low-energy phonons also behaved as Hawking predicted. In addition, Leonhardt is concerned that what was inside the trap wasn't a true BEC, and that it could be producing other forms of quantum fluctuation that just look like Hawking radiation.