Janna Levin

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Janna Levin
Levin in 2019
Born1967 (age 56–57)
Texas, U.S.
Alma mater
Known forA Madman Dreams of Turing Machines
AwardsGuggenheim Fellow 2012
Scientific career
InstitutionsBarnard College
Thesis MAD Gravity and the Early Universe: a Possible New Resolution to the Horizon and Monopole Problems  (1993)
Doctoral advisorKatherine Freese

Janna J. Levin (born 1967) is an American theoretical cosmologist and a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in astronomy and physics with a concentration in philosophy at Barnard College in 1988 and a PhD in theoretical physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993.[1] Much of her work deals with looking for evidence to support the proposal that our universe might be finite in size due to its having a nontrivial topology.[2] Other work includes black holes and chaos theory. She joined the faculty at Barnard College in January 2004 and is currently the Claire Tow Professor of Physics and Astronomy.


Levin was born to Yiddish-speaking Jewish parents in Texas.[3] Her grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, who eventually gave up keeping kosher.[4][5] She describes her household as mostly not religious (Levin was not brought to synagogue and was not bat mitzvahed). Levin attended Columbia University for her bachelor's degree and MIT for her Ph.D, graduating in 1993. In 2002 she held a research fellowship at Cambridge University (England).[6]

Janna Levin is a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University with a grant from the Tow Foundation. She researches black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. In addition she is the director of sciences at Pioneer Works.[7][8]

Levin is the author of the popular science book How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space. In 2006, she published A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, a novel of ideas recounting the lives and deaths of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing.[9]

Levin has written a series of essays to accompany exhibitions at several galleries in England, including the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art and the Hayward Gallery.[10] Levin was featured on Talk of the Nation on July 12, 2002.[11] She appeared as a guest on Stephen Colbert's Comedy Central show The Colbert Report on August 24, 2006.[12] She also appeared as the featured guest on the Speaking of Faith radio show on February 22, 2009, where she discussed her book A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines with the show's host Krista Tippett.[13] Levin presented "The sound the universe makes" on TED.com on March 1, 2011.[14] She was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2012.[15]

Her book Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space was published in March, 2016. The book is about the history of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the 2015 discovery of gravitational waves.[16] In a review of the book published in The Wall Street Journal, British astrophysicist John Gribbin wrote, "This is a splendid book that I recommend to anyone with an interest in how science works and in the power of human imagination and ability."[17] In January 2018 she hosted Nova's award-winning episode "Black Hole Apocalypse."[18]

Personal life

Janna Levin interviews Jonathan Nolan at the Sundance Film Festival 2024

Levin did not officially graduate from high school, as she was in a serious car accident and hospitalized for a time.[15]

Levin is the parent of two children, a son born in 2004 and a daughter born in 2007. Her partner, Warren, is a musician.[19]



  1. ^ Bastek, Stephanie (April 19, 2016). "Black Hole Blues". The American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa Society. Retrieved October 14, 2021.
  2. ^ Levin, Janna (January 1, 2000). "In space, do all roads lead to home?". Plus Magazine. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Levin, Janna". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  4. ^ Levin, Janna; Tippett, Krista (January 10, 2008). "Mathematics, Purpose, and Truth". On Being. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  5. ^ Kaufman, Eli (May 17, 2016). "Janna Levin and Black Hole Blues". Times of Israel - Blogs. Retrieved 2021-10-14.
  6. ^ "Cosmic girl's chaos theory" by Anjana Ahuja, The Times (London) part 2, February 11, 2002, page 10
  7. ^ Levin, Jenna. "Bio". Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Janna Levin". Barnard College. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
  9. ^ Myerson, Sylvie (September 2007). "Janna Levin in conversation with Sylvie Myerson". Brooklyn Rail.
  10. ^ "The Office of Janna Levin: Art". Janna Levin. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  11. ^ "The Office of Janna Levin: Video + Audio". Janna Levin. Archived from the original on 2012-09-03. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  12. ^ "Janna Levin – The Colbert Report". Comedy Central. Viacom. 2006-08-24. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  13. ^ "Mathematics, Purpose, and Truth | On Being". Speaking of Faith. 2012-05-31. Archived from the original on 2010-07-05. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  14. ^ "The sound the universe makes: Janna Levin on TED.com". TED Blog. 2011-03-15. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
  15. ^ a b "The Office of Janna Levin: Bio + Photos". Janna Levin. Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2012-09-20.
  16. ^ Bastek, Stephanie (April 19, 2016). "Black Hole Blues". The American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa Society.
  17. ^ Gribbin, John (March 25, 2016). "A Billion Year-Old Postcard: The collision of two black holes produced more than a trillion times the power of a billion Suns". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  18. ^ "Black Hole Hunter: Janna Levin". PBS. January 10, 2018.
  19. ^ "Cosmic girl's chaos theory" by Anjana Ahuja, The Times (London) part 2, February 11, 2002, page 10

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