Black holes are the most extreme objects in the universe. Pitch black, with masses as much as a billion times that of our sun and with the strength to anchor whole galaxies, such extreme objects call for equally extreme methods to study them.

Indeed, scientists go to great lengths to pick up whatever signals they can from these invisible beasts: telescopes launched into space to detect X-rays that are emitted from black holes but can’t pass through our atmosphere; kilometers-wide neutrino detectors placed on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea, catching elementary particles coming from the black hole births; and over $600 million spent building the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which offers the first opportunity to observe black hole activity directly.

But what if black holes could be studied in a more modest way, without fields of telescopes or millions of dollars in equipment? What if, rather than chasing them in the wild, scientists could build them in the lab and then study their behavior up close and in detail?

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