Jacob Bekenstein

Jacob Bekenstein

Jacob Bekenstein
Jacob Bekenstein
Born (1947-05-01)May 1, 1947
Mexico City, Mexico
Died August 16, 2015(2015-08-16) (aged 68)
Helsinki, Finland
Citizenship Israeli American
Fields Theoretical physics
Institutions Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Alma mater Princeton University
Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
Doctoral advisor John Wheeler
Known for Black hole thermodynamics
Notable awards Rothschild Prize in Physics (1988)
Israel Prize (2005)
Wolf Prize in Physics (2012)

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


  • Biography 1
  • Major contributions to physics 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Awards 4
  • Works 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Bekenstein was born in Mexico City in 1947, to parents Joseph and Esther (née Vladaslavotsky), Polish Jews who had immigrated to Mexico.[1] He moved to the United States during his early life, gaining U.S. citizenship in 1968.[2] He was also a citizen of Israel.[3]

As a student, Bekenstein attended the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now known as the New York University Polytechnic 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.[4]

By 1972, Bekenstein was already making a name for himself in the field of theoretical physics. He published three groundbreaking and influential papers regarding the black hole stellar phenomenon, which was not well understood at the time, postulating the no-hair theorem and coming up with a theory on black hole thermodynamics that year. In the years to come, Bekenstein continued his exploration of black holes, publishing papers on their entropy and quantum mass, among other subjects.[3]

Bekenstein was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin from 1972 to 1974. He then moved to Israel to lecture and teach at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, becoming a full professor by 1978 and head of the astrophysics department by 1983. He left Ben-Gurion University to become a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1990, becoming head of its theoretical physics department three years later.[3] He was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1997.[5] He was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2009 and 2010.[6]

In addition to his lectures and residencies around the world,[4] Bekenstein continued to serve as Polak professor of theoretical physics at the Hebrew University up until his death at the age of 68, in Helsinki, Finland.[7] 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."[2][5][8]

Major contributions to physics

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 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 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.[9][10] However, in 1974, Hawking performed a lengthy calculation that convinced him that particles do indeed emit from black holes. Today this is known as Bekenstein-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.[11] Bekenstein was the first physicist to postulate such a theorem. His suggestion was proven to be unstable, but it was influential in the development of the field.[12][13]

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).[14]

In 1982, Bekenstein was the first person to develop 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.[15]

In 2004, Bekenstein greatly 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.[16]

Personal life

Bekenstein had three children with his wife, Bilha. All three children, Yehonadav, Uriya and Rivka Bekenstein, became scientists.[1]



  • J. D. Bekenstein, Information in the Holographic Universe. Scientific American, Volume 289, Number 2, August 2003, p. 61.[1]
  • J. D. Bekenstein and M. Schiffer, Quantum Limitations on the Storage and Transmission of Information, Int. J. of Modern Physics 1:355–422 (1990).
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Entropy content and information flow in systems with limited energy, Phys. Rev. D 30:1669–1679 (1984). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Communication and energy, Phys. Rev A 37(9):3437–3449 (1988). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Entropy bounds and the second law for black holes, Phys. Rev. D 27(10):2262–2270 (1983). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Specific entropy and the sign of the energy, Phys. Rev. D 26(4):950–953 (1982). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Black holes and everyday physics, General Relativity and Gravitation, 14(4):355–359 (1982). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Universal upper bound to entropy-to-energy ratio for bounded systems, Phys. Rev. D 23:287–298 (1981). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Energy cost of information transfer, Phys. Rev. Lett 46:623–626. (1981). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Black-hole thermodynamics, Physics Today, 24–31 (Jan. 1980).
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Statistical black hole thermodynamics, Phys. Rev. D 12:3077–3085 (1975). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Generalized second law of thermodynamics in black hole physics, Phys. Rev. D 9:3292–3300 (1974). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Black holes and entropy, Phys. Rev. D 7:2333–2346 (1973). [citeseer]
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Black holes and the second law, Nuovo Cimento Letters 4:737–740 (1972).
  • J. D. Bekenstein, Nonexistence of baryon number of static black holes, Phys. Rev. D 5:2403–2412 (1972). [citeseer]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b c d
  6. ^ Institute for Advanced Study: A Community of Scholars
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Overbye, Dennis, Jacob Bekenstein, Physicist, dies at 68; revolutionized the study of black holes, New York Times, August 22, 2015, p.B7
  10. ^
  11. ^ The Big Bang: A View from the 21st Century (2003) by David M. Harland, pp. 227–8, ISBN 978-1852337131M
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  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Possibilities in Parallel: Seeking the Multiverse (2013) by the editors of Scientific American, ISBN 9781466842519
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c d e f
  18. ^
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External links

  • Bekenstein's papers list at ArXiv with links to the full papers
  • Israel Prize Official Site – CV of Jacob Bekenstein (Hebrew)