Matteo Smerlak

Matteo Smerlak's picture
Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences

Areas of Research:
Statistical Mechanics, Complex Systems

Research Interests

General relativity is our fundamental theory of space, time and gravity; it successfully accounts for such awe-inspiring phenomena as black hole formation and cosmological expansion. But it is also much more than that. Its geometric formulation, based on the concept of curved spacetime, provides a powerful framework to describe a variety of condensed-matter systems, from inhomogeneous fluid flows to Bose-Einstein condensates and gradient-index dielectrics. In my view, these "gravitational analogues'' or "analogue spacetimes'', offer a splendid opportunity to push further the boundaries of general relativity itself, especially where it interfaces with (i) quantum mechanics and (ii) equilibrium and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics.

My main research goal is to explore these interfaces to gain a better understanding of the relationships between fluctuations and gravity. The famous Hawking effect, whereby vacuum fluctuations are amplified and rectified into an outgoing flux of thermal particles, is a foremost example of the surprising phenomena arising at this interface. In a nutshell, I intend to make sense of the notion that "fluctuations are rectified by gravity'' in a broader sense. This investigation will lead me, I hope, to a deeper understanding of black hole thermodynamics.

I also entertain various research interests outside of gravitational physics. Recently these have included, among others: the robustness properties of banking networks (macro-economics), the statistical mechanics of Darwinian evolution (biology) and the stability properties of predator-prey dynamics (ecology). I am looking forward to discussing with anybody interested in these topics!

Positions Held

  • 2012 Riemann Fellow, Riemann Center for Physics and Geometry (Hannover, Germany)
  • 2011 - 2013 Junior Scientist, Albert Einstein Institute for Gravitational Physics (Potsdam, Germany)
  • 2009 - 2011 Teaching assistant, Université de la Méditerranée (Marseille, France)
  • 2007 - 2008 Teaching assistant, African Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (Cape Town, South Africa)
  • 2006 - 2007 Physics tutor in experimental affirmative action class, Lycée Henri IV (Paris, France)


  • Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, Humboldt Foundation
  • Honorable Mention, Gravity Research Foundation Essay Competition 2013

Recent Publications

  • Matteo Smerlak, Ahmed Youssef, Universal statistics of selected values, EPL (Europhysics Letters) 117 (5), 50003, 2017
  • M Smerlak, B Vaitla, A non-equilibrium formulation of food security resilience, Royal Society Open Science 4:160874, 2017
  • Matteo Smerlak, Minimum relative entropy distributions with a large mean are Gaussian, Phys. Rev. E 94 (6), 062107, 2016
  • Matteo Smerlak, Ahmed Youssef, Limiting fitness distributions in evolutionary dynamics, Journal of Theoretical Biology 416, 68-80, 2017
  • Ian A. Hatton, Kevin S. McCann, John M. Fryxell, T. Jonathan Davies, Matteo Smerlak, Anthony R. E. Sinclair, Michel Loreau, The predator-prey power law: biomass scaling across terrestrial and aquatic biomes, Science, 349 (6252), aac6284, 2015
  • Matteo Smerlak, Thermodynamics of inequalities: from precariousness to economic stratification, Physica A 441, 40-50, 2016, arXiv: 1406.6441
  • Matteo Smerlak, Brady Stoll, Agam Gupta, James S. Magdanz, Mapping systemic risk: critical degree and failures distribution in financial networks, PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130948 (2015), arXiv: 1402.4783
  • Eugenio Bianchi, Tommaso de Lorenzo, Matteo Smerlak, Journal of High Energy Physics 06 (2015) 180, arXiv: 1409.0144
  • Eugenio Bianchi, Matteo Smerlak, Last gasp of a black hole: unitary evaporation implies non-monotonic mass loss, Gen. Relativ. Gravit. 46, 1809 (2014), arXiv: 1405.5235
  • Eugenio Bianchi, Matteo Smerlak, Entanglement entropy and negative energy in two dimensions, Phys. Rev. D 90, 041904(R) (2014), arXiv: 1404.0602
  • Matteo Smerlak, Natural selection as coarsening, arXiv: 1707.05317
  • Les trous noirs, Presses Universitaires de France (Que Sais-Je ?)
  • Einstein2: Brownian Motion Meets General Relativity in Analogue Gravity Phenomenology (Faccio, Belgiorno, Cacciatori, Gorini, Liberati, Moschella eds), Springer, Lecture Notes in Physics 870, 2013


  • On black hole design, Loops '15, Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany
  • Evolution of fitness distributions in large populations: scaling, universality and crossovers, University of Waterloo, Canada
  • Black holes and reversibility, International loop quantum gravity phone seminar
  • Thermodynamics of economic inequalities: precariousness, volatility and stratification, Statistical Physics Methods in Social and Economic Systems, Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris, France
  • Information loss and black holes, or how to read the Page curve, LPTENS, Ecole normale supérieure, Paris, France
  • Information loss---why should we care?, Conceptual and Technical Challenges for Quantum Gravity 2014, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy
  • Last gasp of a black hole: why unitary evaporation must be non-monotonic, 15th Canadian Conference on General Relativity and Relativistic Astrophysics, Winnipeg, Canada