Jacob Bekenstein

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Jacob Bekenstein
Bekenstein100 (cropped).JPG
Bekenstein in 2009
Born(1947-05-01)May 1, 1947
Mexico City, Mexico
DiedAugust 16, 2015(2015-08-16) (aged 68)
Helsinki, Finland
Alma materPrinceton University
Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
Known forBlack hole thermodynamics
Scientific career
FieldsTheoretical physics
InstitutionsHebrew University of Jerusalem
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Doctoral advisorJohn Wheeler

Jacob David Bekenstein (Hebrew: יעקב בקנשטיין; May 1, 1947 – August 16, 2015) was an American and Israeli theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the foundation of black hole thermodynamics and to other aspects of the connections between information and gravitation.[1]


Jacob Bekenstein was born in Mexico City to Joseph and Esther (née Vladaslavotsky), Polish Jews who immigrated to Mexico.[2] He moved to the United States during his early life, gaining U.S. citizenship in 1968.[3] He was also a citizen of Israel.[4]

Bekenstein attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now known as the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, obtaining both an undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in 1969. He went on to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton University, working under the direction of John Archibald Wheeler, in 1972.[5]

Bekenstein had three children with his wife, Bilha. All three children, Yehonadav,[a] Uriya and Rivka Bekenstein, became scientists.[2] Bekenstein was known as a religious man and a believer, being quoted as saying: "I look at the world as a product of God, He set very specific laws and we delight in discovering them through scientific work."[7]

Scientific career[edit]

By 1972, Bekenstein had published three influential papers about the black hole stellar phenomenon, postulating the no-hair theorem and presenting a theory on black hole thermodynamics. In the years to come, Bekenstein continued his exploration of black holes, publishing papers on their entropy and quantum mass.[4]

Bekenstein was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin from 1972 to 1974. He then immigrated to Israel to lecture and teach at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba. In 1978, he became a full professor and in 1983, head of the astrophysics department.

In 1990, he became a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was appointed head of its theoretical physics department three years later.[4] He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1997.[8] He was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2009 and 2010.[9]

In addition to lectures and residencies around the world,[5] Bekenstein continued to serve as Polak professor of theoretical physics at the Hebrew University until his death at the age of 68, in Helsinki, Finland.[10] He died unexpectedly on August 16, 2015, just months after receiving the American Physical Society's Einstein Prize "for his ground-breaking work on black hole entropy, which launched the field of black hole thermodynamics and transformed the long effort to unify quantum mechanics and gravitation".[3][8][11]

Contributions to physics[edit]

In 1972, Bekenstein was the first to suggest that black holes should have a well-defined entropy. He wrote that a black hole's entropy was proportional to the area of its (the black hole's) event horizon. Bekenstein also formulated the generalized second law of thermodynamics, black hole thermodynamics, for systems including black holes. Both contributions were affirmed when Stephen Hawking (and, independently, Zeldovich and others) proposed the existence of Hawking radiation two years later. Hawking had initially opposed Bekenstein's idea on the grounds that a black hole could not radiate energy and therefore could not have entropy.[12][13] However, in 1974, Hawking performed a lengthy calculation that convinced him that particles can indeed be emitted from black holes. Today this is known as Hawking radiation. Bekenstein's doctoral adviser, John Archibald Wheeler, also worked with him to develop the no-hair theorem, a reference to Wheeler's saying that "black holes have no hair," in the early 1970s.[14] Bekenstein's suggestion was proven unstable, but it was influential in the development of the field.[15][16]

Based on his black-hole thermodynamics work, Bekenstein also demonstrated the Bekenstein bound: there is a maximum to the amount of information that can potentially be stored in a given finite region of space which has a finite amount of energy (which is similar to the holographic principle).[17]

In 1982, Bekenstein developed a rigorous framework to generalize the laws of electromagnetism to handle inconstant physical constants. His framework replaces the fine-structure constant by a scalar field. However, this framework for changing constants did not incorporate gravity.[18]

In 2004, Bekenstein boosted Mordehai Milgrom's theory of Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) by developing a relativistic version. It is known as TeVeS for Tensor/Vector/Scalar and it introduces three different fields in space time to replace the one gravitational field.[19]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ In 2018, Yehonadav joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technion as an assistant professor.[6]


  1. ^ Wald, Robert M. (December 1, 2015). "Jacob David Bekenstein". Physics Today. 68 (12): 68. Bibcode:2015PhT....68l..68W. doi:10.1063/PT.3.3029.
  2. ^ a b Overbye, Dennis (August 21, 2015). "Jacob Bekenstein, Physicist Who Revolutionized Theory of Black Holes, Dies at 68". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Jacob Bekenstein, Black Hole Pioneer and Hebrew University Physicist, Has Died". Jspace. August 18, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d "Curriculum vitae" (PDF). The Racah Institute of Physics. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Professor Jacob Bekenstein" (PDF). The University of Texas at San Antonio. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  6. ^ "Yehonadav Bekenstein". Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  7. ^ "Jacob Bekenstein, towering theoretical physicist who studied black holes, dies at 68".
  8. ^ a b c d "2015 Einstein Prize Recipient". Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  9. ^ Institute for Advanced Study: A Community of Scholars Archived January 6, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Nouwen, Arie (August 18, 2015). "Natuurkundige Jacob Bekenstein overleden" (in Dutch). Astroblogs. Archived from the original on August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  11. ^ Ouellette, Jennifer (August 17, 2015). "In Memoriam: Jacob Bekenstein (1947–2015) and Black Hole Entropy". Scientific American. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  12. ^ Overbye, Dennis, Jacob Bekenstein, Physicist, dies at 68; revolutionized the study of black holes, New York Times, August 22, 2015, p.B7
  13. ^ Levi Julian, Hana (September 3, 2012). "'40 Years of Black Hole Thermodynamics' in Jerusalem". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  14. ^ The Big Bang: A View from the 21st Century (2003) by David M. Harland, pp. 227–8, ISBN 978-1852337131
  15. ^ Toubal, Wahiba (2010). "No-Hair Theorems and introduction to Hairy Black Holes" (PDF). Imperial College London. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  16. ^ Mayo, Avraham; Bekenstein, Jacob (1996), "No hair for spherical black holes: charged and nonminimally coupled scalar field with self−interaction", Physical Review D, 54 (8): 5059–5069, arXiv:gr-qc/9602057, Bibcode:1996PhRvD..54.5059M, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.54.5059, PMID 10021195, S2CID 32267348
  17. ^ Freiberger, Marianne (November 3, 2014). "The limits of information". +plus Magazine. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  18. ^ Possibilities in Parallel: Seeking the Multiverse (2013) by the editors of Scientific American, ISBN 9781466842519
  19. ^ Bekenstein, J. D. (2004), "Relativistic gravitation theory for the modified Newtonian dynamics paradigm", Physical Review D, 70 (8): 083509, arXiv:astro-ph/0403694, Bibcode:2004PhRvD..70h3509B, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.70.083509
  20. ^ a b c d e f "Prof. Jack Bekenstein" (PDF). World Cultural Council. Retrieved August 18, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "Israel Prize Judges' Rationale for the award (in Hebrew)". Israel Prize Official Site. Archived from the original on October 21, 2010.
  22. ^ "Jacob D. Bekenstein Winner of Wolf Prize in Physics – 2012".

External links[edit]