Courses about GR and Black Holes offered


Astronomy 140: Introduction to General Relativity 

Instructor: Xingang Chen
Offered: Fall semesters odd years

Description: Recent exploration of black holes and gravitational waves have revealed the relativistic Universe like never before.  This course will introduce students to the theory of general relativity and some of its key applications. Topics include: review of special relativity, physics in curved spacetimes, the Einstein field equations, gravitational lensing, black holes, gravitational waves and cosmology. Mathematics used in general relativity will be introduced along the way

Prerequisites:  Multivariable calculus (e.g. Math 21A), linear algebra and differential equations (e.g. Math 21B), college-level Mechanics including special relativity (e.g. Physics 15A), and E&M (e.g. Physics 15B)


The Black Hole Initiative's Flagship Course:

Physics 211br Spring 2020

Quantum black holes


Andrew Strominger

Jefferson Lab 453

Wed 4-6 pm


An introduction to our current understanding of the quantum theory of black holes. Topics include: Hawking radiation, the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy/area law, quantum entanglement,  two and three-dimensional black holes, microstate counting, asymptotic symmetries,  soft hair, holography, chaos bounds and Kerr/CFT. A central focus will be the  'information paradox' concerning the relations between general relativity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics.



Overview of the Black Hole Initiative Consortium for Graduate Training

We envision our Consortium as a platform for enriching the young generation of Harvard students with the comprehensive multi-disciplinary foundation required for them to succeed as researchers and future faculty in the exciting field of black hole research. 

The BHI Consortium will provide a structure within which undergraduate and graduate students will develop their understanding and research skills in the broad range of disciplines associated with black holes. A key value will be to instill the importance of enduring collaborative multidisciplinary research in solving some of science’s big questions, such as the unification of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of gravity (General Relativity), the nature and mathematics of singularities and horizons, and the physical and philosophical implications of the information paradox (regarding the fate of information swallowed by a black hole). Another
essential feature of the consortium model for graduate training is flexibility. Students admitted to different programs at Harvard will begin participating in related activities at the point in their studies that best fits their individual program’s requirements. In this way the consortium can add to each student’s training experience an integrated approach to existing curriculum and the overall requirements of each graduate program.

Student Recruitment

Our goal is to attract the best students to our new BHI Consortium from the Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics , History of Science and Philosophy departments. To accomplish this, we will pursue two strategies to recruit outstanding students: (i) we will work closely and proactively with individual departments to identify and recruit prospective students, including those from underrepresented populations, and, (ii) we will reach out to students after they have been accepted into a departmental graduate program to share information about our Consortium.

The BHI community includes many astronomers, physicists and mathematicians whose research interests overlap with black holes. We will publicize the availability of these outstanding, accessible mentors across University departments who are involved in BHI research. We  will conduct this outreach using a variety of communications outlets, including the BHI website and the GSAS and HILS websites, with web links to all of the existing graduate programs in which BHI faculty participate. In addition, we will utilize social media outlets (primarily Facebook and Twitter) to bring our Consortium to the attention  of the most outstanding and promising undergraduates and encourage them to apply to Harvard.  Some prospective applicants will inquire about the application process by contacting the  existing programs directly. Others may direct their inquiries to the BHI program. This latter  group will be informed of all the different existing graduate programs and directed to those departments and programs to pursue the application process. The admissions process will be  the responsibility of the admissions committee of each program or department. Individual applicants will thus be evaluated and will compete for the spots available for each program without any special treatment.

The second strategy of our Consortium’s recruiting will be to reach out to post-admission Harvard graduate students. Again, we will utilize our website and social media for outreach to this population. For those admitted students who indicate some interest in black hole  research, the BHI Consortium will be an additional supplemental recruiting resource. Upon arrival at Harvard, and simultaneously with the respective orientation of each department and program, students interested in black hole research will have the opportunity to attend an information session to familiarize themselves with the ongoing activities of the BHI Consortium. The timing of this introduction will likely vary among different students.


The BHI consortium will be open to Ph.D. or M.Sc. students at Harvard who have completed at least one semester in their home department or graduate program. Students will download an application form, which they will submit to the BHI Administrator, Nicole Grenier ( ). The BHI director will coordinate the process of evaluating and accepting applicants.

Once accepted, students will begin their participation by taking a “flagship” two-semester introductory course. To permit maximum flexibility, students may take that introductory course at any time during their graduate program. Following this introduction, students may pursue a number of elective course offerings.

Students will be expected to take at least two courses that would be outside their home department. There are many other upper level (100- and 200-level) courses on topics relevant to black hole research offered across the University. Among these, students can choose those that best suit their research interests and needs. Please note, students enrolled in the BHI PhD program will be required to satisfy all academic requirements in their home departments.

Outside Activities

Both enrolled and interested students will be encouraged to participate in a range of activities, including our weekly Tuesday lunch and seminars, workshops and other BHI events held at the BHI space (20 Garden Street, Cambridge) to promote student-faculty interactions. The timing of when students beginto participate in these activities will be flexible to ensure that their participation in our Consortium does not interfere with the existing activities of individual graduate programs.

An essential feature of the Consortium is a research rotation in a department that is not the student’s home department. This rotation could be for an intensive period (3 months) or spread out to one day per week for an academic year. We will utilize the website and social media to post Origins-related projects offered by BHI Consortium faculty. Finally, we will organize annual symposia to highlight student achievements and foster additional interaction within the BHI Consortium’s student and faculty researchers.

PhD Thesis

BHI Consortium students will have a BHI faculty member on their thesis committee and will meet with a Consortium faculty advisor at least once per semester.