Thanks to everyone who sent me an article about Stephen Hawking. Let me share a memory.

Image result for stephen hawking caltech 2000

Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne at Caltech in 2000

Hawking wasn’t a person you could meet in the ordinary sense–firm handshake, exchange of pleasantries.  But I did once get to stand in a room with him, when I piled into the auditorium with a hundred other Caltech physics students back when I was in graduate school.  The talk, about the geometry of spacetime in the vicinity of the big bang, went over most of our heads.  But we held on best we could, nonetheless, though his disability meant several minutes of uncomfortable silence for everyone in the hot, crowded space as he keyed in the answers to our questions.

Hawking lived in a cloud of constant pain and struggle; I imaging his passing last night at the age of 76 provided substantial physical and emotional relief to those close to him.  It is frightening to think of how we have lost such an important ambassador for science at a time when empiricism and reason seem to be under attack from all sides.  But it is comforting to think that Hawking also lived much longer than he anticipated–long enough to see the discovery of the Higgs boson, and gravitational waves, which must have delighted him.

I’m sure you know Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, and his heroic public persona. If you haven’t had a chance yet, you might like to dip into an article on his most famous scientific contribution: the theory of Hawking Radiation, a process that causes black holes to slowly evaporate .  That dazzling theoretical discovery, and his many other contributions to physics, will surely live on and on.

Marc Kuchner


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.