Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Professor Hawking


So I drove 3 hours to College Station with my brother so we could see Professor Stephen Hawking give a lecture on the nature of Black Holes. I'm still a bit dazed in a way, and we just keep saying, "We saw Stephen Hawking."

I reached a moment of greater verbosity in the car, actually articulating the gleeful sentiment, "You'll be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the Einstein of our day, up close and personal!"

Otherwise, I think I was in such awe, my brain hasn't truly processed the experience just yet. It's rather tricky to get decent photographs in a large hall where camera flashes are not allowed, but I managed a few clear ones in the low light...

Stephen Hawking
Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M only holds about 2500 people, and the sheer overflow trying to sneak a peek or nudge into "standing room only" spots was overwhelming. I saw children with their parents, young teens in groups, obvious college students, middle-aged science geeks like myself, what looked like couples up into their 70s! He's quite a draw, and deservedly so.

During his presentation, the acoustics sometimes made it difficult to hear, given that his electronic "voice" doesn't always project well through a microphone system, but other than that, it was immensely enjoyable overall.

Hawking's quirky sense of humor got the audience laughing more than once, particularly with his quips about how he's still hoping for a Nobel Prize, and his artful slide about how black holes can emit anything, up to and including teapots or Homer Simpson (???).

Professor Stephen William Hawking
The part I found most amusing were his friendly bets with colleagues over whose theories will eventually prove true.

Most people bet on sports. I bet on NHL finals and Superbowls. Stephen Hawking bet two other theoretical physicists (Kip Thorne and John Preskill) that when an initial pure quantum state undergoes gravitational collapse to form a black hole, the final state at the end of said hole will always be a pure quantum state.

Can't wait to see the playoff bracket for that one.