Laura Mersini-Houghton is an internationally well known cosmologist and theoretical physicist, working on fundamental questions about the universe. She is a proponent of the multiverse hypothesis, which holds that our universe is one of many. She developed a theory of the origin of the universe from the quantum landscape multiverse, and derived a series of predictions for expected anomalies in the sky. The existence of these anomalies was confirmed by the Planck Satellite experiment in 2015 and 2018.
In 2014, Mersini-Houghton's paper on black holes (which appears to demonstrate mathematically that they do not exist) generated much discussion in the scientific community. This led to UNC-Chapel Hill co-sponsoring the Hawking Radiation Conference in Stockholm in 2015, initiated by Mersini-Houghton. Stephen Hawking and other renowned physicists gathered to debate whether singularities in black holes exist and whether Hawking Radiation has bearing on their existence.
Mersini-Houghton has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2004. She received a B.S. degree from the University of Tirana, Albania, and an M.Sc. from the University of Maryland. She was awarded a Ph.D. in 2000 by the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. After earning her doctorate, Mersini-Houghton spent one year as a postdoctoral fellow at Syracuse University and eight months at Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics.
She has given many public lectures in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
Areas of Expertise (8)
Origins of the Universe
Space and Time
Conference organizer, Hawking Radiation Conference (professional)
Initiated and organized international conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, August 2015.
A Debate in Cosmology: The Multiverse (professional)
One of the organizers of the conference, a collaborative effort between Columbia University, the Perimeter Institute and UNC-Carolina-Chapel Hill to stimulate progress in outstanding topics in theoretical physics.
"A Debate in Cosmology: The Arrows of Time" (professional)
Co-organized with Brian Greene at Columbia University and Justin Khoury at Perimeter Institute, at the New York Academy of Science. 2007
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Ph.D., Theoretical Physics 2000
University of Maryland-College Park: M.Sc., Theoretical Physics 1997
Media Appearances (10)
Media appearances highlights
for Laura Mersini-Houghton
Laura Mersini-Houghton has had numerous cover story articles in 'New Scientist', 'Scientific American', 'Bild der Wissenshaft', 'BBC Focus', 'Focus-Italy', 'Focus-France', Discover magazine, 'Sunday Times', 'The independent', 'HuffPost', 'Washington Post' , 'WSJ', etc. Other highlights include: NPR, Interview with Frank Stasios 2007; NPR 'Meet the Scientist' 2009; NPR 2018, Radio Germany 2007, 2008 and 2010; BBC Radio 4 20012, 2014,
Closer to the Truth Series
Multiple appearances: 2011 'What lies at the edge of the universe' by Peter Leonard; 2015 'Which Universe are we in' by Naomi Austin
DOKU:TECH Special Edition: A Science-tastic Event
IPKO Foundation online
There was a BIG BANG on July 21, 2016 in Prishtina, and we’re not talking about the theory of how everything was created in the universe. DOKU:TECH Special Edition with Laura Mersini-Houghton gathered more than 400 attendees from different backgrounds who came to interact, be inspired, and illuminate.
Proving Einstein Right
WUNC-The State of Things radio
Host Frank Stasio talks with Laura Mersini-Houghton, physics professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and Greg Cook, physics professor at Wake Forest University, about how gravitational waves work, and what they mean for future research in astrophysics.
Stephen Hawking’s Black Hole Challenge
The Wall Street Journal online
Earlier this year, Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, invited Prof. Hawking and three dozen other researchers to attack it together. The group met at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in August...
Has Stephen Hawking solved the mystery of black holes?
Black holes have a way of capturing our imagination. That's why when Stephen Hawking recently talked about them the media went wild. But what was he really saying? Was it a breakthrough moment? At the Hawking Radiation Conference organized by Laura Mersini-Houghton, a professor of physics at the University of North Carolina, 32 eminent physicists gathered to discuss outstanding issues involved with apparent contradictions in our current understanding of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.
Which Universe Are We In?
BBC Horizon tv
Until very recently the whole idea of the multiverse was dismissed as a fantasy, but now this strangest of ideas is at the cutting edge of science.And for a growing number of scientists, the multiverse is the only way we will ever truly make sense of the world we are in. Horizon asks the question: Do multiple universes exist? And if so, which one are we actually in?
After a week of intense debate, Stephen Hawking and his colleagues are still puzzled by black holes
The Washington Post online
The conference, which was primarily funded by the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics (Nordita), is the brainchild of physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mersini-Houghton is a member of the next generation of scientists tackling these questions, and her work on black holes has drawn the "founding fathers" of the field into fierce (albeit good-natured) debate -- mostly via phone. "On the one hand, we loved spending so much time on the phone talking about physics," Mersini-Houghton told The Post. "But we were getting nowhere in terms of convincing each other."...
Folt, Hawking kick off historic physics conference
UNC-Chapel Hill News online
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt welcomed renowned physicist Stephen Hawking in front of a sold-out crowd at the Hawking Radiation Conference in Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday. Hawking’s public lecture was an early highlight of the historic gathering of the world’s most accomplished physicists. Laura Mersini-Houghton, associate professor of theoretical physics and cosmology in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill whose work on black holes spurred new discussion among physicists, initiated the conference to continue the conversation. Earlier in the day, Hawking singled out Mersini-Houghton on his Facebook page, thanking his friend and colleague “for bringing this event together.”
Event Appearances (1)
How the Light Gets In Conference
https://howthelightgetsin.org/london/meet-our-speakers/laura-mersini-houghton London 2019
Particle creation leading to Hawking radiation is produced by the changing gravitational field of the collapsing star. The two main initial conditions in the far past placed on the quantum field from which particles arise, are the Hartle Hawking vacuum and the Unruh vacuum. The former leads to a time symmetric thermal bath of radiation, while the latter to a flux of radiation coming out of the collapsing star. The energy of Hawking radiation in the interior of the collapsing star is negative and equal in magnitude to its value at future infinity. This work investigates the backreaction of Hawking radiation on the interior of a gravitationally collapsing star, in a Hartle-Hawking initial vacuum. It shows that due to the negative energy Hawking radiation in the interior, the collapse of the star stops at a finite radius, before the singularity and the event horizon of a black hole have a chance to form. That is, the star bounces instead of collapsing to a black hole. A trapped surface near the last stage of the star's collapse to its minimum size may still exist temporarily. Its formation depends on the details of collapse. Results for the case of Hawking flux of radiation with the Unruh initial state, will be given in a companion paper II.
R. Holman, L. Mersini-Houghton, T. Takahashi. We investigate the effects of quantum entanglement between our horizon patch and others due to the tracing out of long wavelength modes in the wavefunction of the Universe as defined on a particular model of the landscape
R. Holman, L. Mersini-Houghton, T. Takahashi. This is the second paper in the series that confronts predictions of a model of the landscape with cosmological observations. We show here how the modifications of the Friedmann equation due to the decohering effects of long wavelength modes on the wavefunction of the Universe defined on the landscape leave unique signatures on the CMB spectra and large scale structure (LSS).
Archil Kobakhidze and Laura Mersini-Houghton. We show that a unique, most probable and stable solution for the wave function of the universe, with a very small cosmological constant Λ1≃(πlpN)2Λ1≃(πlpN)2 , can be predicted from the supersymmetric minisuperspace with N vacua of the landscape of string theory without referring to the anthropic principle.
R. Holman, L. Mersini-Houghton. We show that the inclusion of backreaction of massive long wavelengths imposes dynamical constraints on the allowed phase space of initial conditions for inflation, which results in a superselection rule for the initial conditions. Only high energy inflation is stable against collapse due to the gravitational instability of massive perturbations. We present arguments to the effect that the initial conditions problem cannot be meaningfully addressed by thermostatistics as far as the gravitational degrees of freedom are concerned. Rather, the choice of the initial conditions for the universe in the phase space and the emergence of an arrow of time have to be treated as a dynamic selection.
We propose a new selection criteria for predicting the most probable wavefunction of the universe that propagates on the string landscape background, by studying its dynamics from a quantum cosmology view
Alessandro Melchiorri, Laura Mersini, Carolina J. Odman and Mark Trodden. By combining data from seven cosmic microwave background experiments (including the latest WMAP results) with large scale structure data, the Hubble parameter measurement from the Hubble Space Telescope and luminosity measurements of Type Ia supernovae we demonstrate the bounds on the dark energy equation of state wQ to be −1.38