S. Hawking: “A brief history of mine”

(Reuters) – The world’s best known living scientist, Stephen Hawking, was too ill to attend his 70th birthday celebrations Sunday but in a recorded speech urged people to “look up at the stars” and be curious about the universe.

Hawking, the author of the international bestseller “A Brief History of Time,” was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 and told he had barely two years to live. He has since been hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

In the speech played out at a symposium in his honor at Cambridge University, he said his excitement and enthusiasm for his subject drove him on, and urged others to seek out the same inspiration.

“Remember to look up at the stars, not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious,” Hawking said in the speech he had been due to give in person.

Hawking’s plans to speak Sunday at Cambridge, where as a PhD student he first became fascinated with cosmology and the state of the universe, were scrapped after his doctor advised him he was too ill to attend the event, officials said.

Hawking had recently been in hospital and was discharged on January 6, Cambridge’s Vice-Chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz said.

“Unfortunately … his recovery has not been fast enough for him to be with us today,” Borysiewicz told a disappointed audience of scientists, students and celebrities at the event.

Almost completely paralyzed by a form of motor neuron disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which attacks the nerves that control muscles and gradually stops them

functioning, Hawking is wheelchair-bound and uses a computerized voice synthesizer to speak.

DEPRESSED

When as a bright and enthusiastic 21-year-old he was diagnosed with the disease, doctors told him he would probably not make it beyond the age of 23.

“At first I became depressed,” Hawking said. “There didn’t seem to be any point working on my PhD because I didn’t know if I would live long enough to finish it.”

Yet in the almost half a century since, Hawking has broken new frontiers research into theories of time, space, relativity and black holes. He is often hailed as a modern-day Einstein and his work has shed light on the origin of the cosmos, the nature of time, and the ultimate fate of the universe.

Currently the director of research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, Hawking also founded the university’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology and only recently retired from a post known as the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics, a title once held by Isaac Newton.

Looking back on his life and work in the speech entitled “A Brief History of Mine,” Hawking said it had been a “glorious time” to be alive and be researching theoretical physics.

“Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 40 years and I’m happy if I have made a small contribution,” he said.

‘DON’T GIVE UP’

The 70-year-old urged fellow researchers and cosmology enthusiasts to encourage public interest in space and to keep going there to witness what he described as the “uninterrupted views of our vast and beautiful universe.”

“We must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” he said. “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

Hailing Hawking’s achievements, Cambridge University’s Borysiewicz said the physicist had “changed our perception of the universe in so many ways.”

Britain’s Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, who also spoke at the symposium, said Hawking had defied all medical and scientific odds.

“It’s wonderful that we are celebrating Stephen’s 70th birthday. It’s a chance to thank him for the many insights he’s given us about the universe, and … for the inspiration he’s offered to millions by achieving so much against all the odds,” he said.

Despite having a mind that appears to work on a far higher level than most other human beings’, Hawking has always made an effort to bring science to the masses.

He has featured on the hit U.S. cartoon show The Simpsons several times, and in Star Trek as a hologram of himself. His voice, famous across the world, also featured in Pink Floyd’s 1994 album Division Bell.

Hawking’s health has deteriorated over the years and he now uses twitches in the muscles in his cheek to choose letters or words on his voice computer to allow him to communicate. This means his speech has slowed dramatically, to a current rate of around one word per minute.

Hawking still appeared to be undaunted by his disability.

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at,” he said. “It matters that you don’t just give up.”

(Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

Stephen Hawking turns 70

Scientist who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at 21 to deliver rare public lecture in Cambridge

Stephen Hawking, whose 'astonishing triumph over adversity' will be honoured as he celebrates his 70th birthday. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

by Alok Jha
The world’s most famous living scientist turns 70 today. ProfessorStephen Hawking has defied medical expectations, since being diagnosed with a form of motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and given only a few years to live, to become one of the most accomplished physicists in the fields of black holes and the study of the early universe.

Hawking’s fame has also brought his ideas to a vast audience outside academia. His first book, A Brief History of Time, has reportedly sold more than 10m copies worldwide and the physicist has made guest appearances on The Simpsons and Star Trek.

Later on Sunday, Hawking will deliver a rare public lecture in Cambridge, entitled A Brief History of Mine. He will be joined on stage for an afternoon of celebrations with talks from Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, and Saul Perlmutter, who won the Nobel prize in physics last year for the co-discovery of dark energy, the mysterious substance said to drive the expansion of the universe.

Rees said celebrating Hawking’s 70th birthday was “a chance to thank him for the many insights he’s given us about the universe, and for all he’s done to present scientific ideas to a wide public – and above all for the inspiration he’s offered to millions by achieving so much, against all the odds.”

Kitty Ferguson, author of Stephen Hawking: His life and Work, said the physicist was celebrated by his colleagues for always running ahead of the pack.

“He loves to go on a speculative edge and be in the vanguard and sometimes make outrageous and shocking suggestions, which everyone has to scurry around and get the mathematics together to see if he’s right. It’s that energy that he has, that spirit of adventure and fun.”

She said the way Hawking had dealt with his disability was one of the most compelling facets of his personality and willpower.

“The fact that he is able to live with his disability and it’s just the most astounding, good-humoured, dismissal of it. It’s not as though he’s triumphing over it, it’s just as though it’s not there.”

Professor Kip Thorne, formerly of the California Institute of Technology and a longtime collaborator of Hawking, said: “When Stephen lost the use of his hands and could no longer manipulate equations on paper, he compensated by training himself to manipulate complex shapes and topologies in his mind at great speed. That ability has enabled him to see the solutions to deep physics problems that nobody else could solve, and that he probably would not have been able to solve, himself, without his newfound skill.”

Since Thursday, physicists from around the world have been gathering in Cambridge to attend a three-day scientific seminar entitled The State of the Universe, where they charted the theoretical frontiers of black holes, cosmology and fundamental physics.

On Sunday, the celebrations go public. Thorne will speak on black holes, Rees will talk about planets and multiverses and Perlmutter will outline the latest thinking on supernovas and the expansion of the universe. Hawking himself is scheduled to speak just after 5pm.

Read more: www.guardian.co.uk


Live webcast: 70th Stephen Hawking birthday symposium

Intel Studios will kindly be streaming the symposium live on the day. Click here to bring up the webcast in a new window, but please note that the stream won’t start until shortly before the 1st talk on Sunday 8 January 2012. Meanwhile, you can watch the webcasts from the currently going Scientific Conference – day 3
Read more: http://www.ctc.cam.ac.uk

Stephen Hawking for the OPERA experiment

Prof Stephen Hawking, the world's best-known physicist, expressed doubts, saying: 'It is premature to comment on this. Further experiments and clarifications are needed'

A British physicist even promised to eat his boxer shorts on live television if it turned out to be correct.
Scientists at CERN, the world’s largest physics lab near Geneva, stunned the world of science on Thursday night by announcing they had observed tiny particles known as neutrinos travelling slightly faster than light.
The claim – if true – would be inconsistent with Einstein’s theory of special relativity, a cornerstone of modern physics which states that nothing can travel faster than light.
Researchers were so astonished by their findings that they spent months checking their data, without finding any errors that would disprove their claim, and cautiously invited the world to prove them wrong.
Reacting to the news yesterday, scientists working on the project – known as OPERA – stressed the need for the results to be checked before drawing any conclusions about our understanding of the universe.
Prof Jim Al-Khalili, professor of Physics at Surrey University, said: “The scientists are right to be extremely cautious about interpreting these findings. If the neutrinos have broken the speed of light, it would overturn a keystone theory from the last century of physics.
“That’s possible, but it’s far more likely that there is an error in the data. If the CERN experiment proves to be correct and neutrinos have broken the speed of light, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV.”
Prof Stephen Hawking, the world’s best-known physicist, also expressed doubts, saying: “It is premature to comment on this. Further experiments and clarifications are needed.”
Others said that, while the accuracy of the experiment needs to be verified, its impact on our understanding of science and the world around us could be almost unprecedented.
Brian Cox, the TV presenter and physicist, told BBC Radio 6 Music: “If it is confirmed it will be the most important discovery in physics in at least the past 100 years.
“It is a very big deal, it requires a complete rewriting of our understanding of the universe … it is such an extraordinary claim that it is difficult to believe.”
But Dr John Costella, an Australian-based physicist, accused the researchers of making an “embarrassing gaffe” in their calculations.
In a paper published online yesterday, he wrote: “Any physicist worth even a fraction of their weight in neutrinos will be shaking their head, knowing intuitively that the OPERA result is simply wrong.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Life and the Cosmos, Word by Painstaking Word

— Like Einstein, he is as famous for his story as for his science.
At the age of 21, the British physicist Stephen Hawking was found to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. While A.L.S. is usually fatal within five years, Dr. Hawking lived on and flourished, producing some of the most important cosmological research of his time.

In the 1960s, with Sir Roger Penrose, he used mathematics to explicate the properties of black holes. In 1973, he applied Einstein’s general theory of relativity to the principles of quantum mechanics. And he showed that black holes were not completely black but could leak radiation and eventually explode and disappear, a finding that is still reverberating through physics and cosmology.

Dr. Hawking, in 1988, tried to explain what he knew about the boundaries of the universe to the lay public in “A Brief History of Time: From Big Bang to Black Holes.” The book sold more than 10 million copies and was on best-seller lists for more than two years.

Today, at 69, Dr. Hawking is one of the longest-living survivors of A.L.S., and perhaps the most inspirational. Mostly paralyzed, he can speak only through a computerized voice simulator.

On a screen attached to his wheelchair, commonly used words flash past him. With a cheek muscle, he signals an electronic sensor in his eyeglasses to transmit instructions to the computer. In this way he slowly builds sentences; the computer transforms them into the metallic, otherworldly voice familiar to Dr. Hawking’s legion of fans.

It’s an exhausting and time-consuming process. Yet this is how he stays connected to the world, directing research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, writing prolifically for specialists and generalists alike and lecturing to rapt audiences from France to Fiji.

Dr. Hawking came here last month at the invitation of a friend, the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss , for a science festival sponsored by the Origins Project of Arizona State University. His lecture, “My Brief History,” was not all quarks and black holes. At one point, he spoke of the special joys of scientific discovery.

“I wouldn’t compare it to sex,” he said in his computerized voice, “but it lasts longer.” The audience roared.

The next afternoon, Dr. Hawking sat with me for a rare interview. Well, a kind of interview, actually.

Ten questions were sent to his daughter, Lucy Hawking, 40, a week before the meeting. So as not to exhaust her father, who has grown weaker since a near-fatal illness two years ago, Ms. Hawking read them to him over a period of days.

During our meeting, the physicist played back his answers. Only one exchange, the last, was spontaneous. Yet despite the limitations, it was Dr. Hawking who wanted to do the interview in person rather than by e-mail.

Some background on the second query, the one about extraterrestrials. For the past year, Lucy Hawking was writer in residence at the Origins Project at Arizona State University. As part of her work, she and Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State, started a contest, “Dear Aliens,” inviting Phoenix schoolchildren to write essays about what they might say to space beings trying to contact Planet Earth.

Q. Dr. Hawking, thank you so much for taking time to talk to Science Times. I’m wondering, what is a typical day like for you?

A. I get up early every morning and go to my office where I work with my colleagues and students at Cambridge University. Using e-mail, I can communicate with scientists all over the world.

Obviously, because of my disability, I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity. (Pause.) Perhaps one day I will go into space.

Q. Speaking of space: Earlier this week, your daughter, Lucy, and Paul Davies, the Arizona State University physicist, sent a message into space from an Arizona schoolchild to potential extraterrestrials out there in the universe. Now, you’ve said elsewhere that you think it’s a bad idea for humans to make contact with other forms of life. Given this, did you suggest to Lucy that she not do it? Hypothetically, let’s say as a fantasy, if you were to send such a message into space, how would it read?

A. Previously I have said it would be a bad idea to contact aliens because they might be so greatly advanced compared to us, that our civilization might not survive the experience. The “Dear Aliens” competition is based on a different premise.

It assumes that an intelligent extraterrestrial life form has already made contact with us and we need to formulate a reply. The competition asks school-age students to think creatively and scientifically in order to find a way to explain human life on this planet to some inquisitive aliens. I have no doubt that if we are ever contacted by such beings, we would want to respond.

I also think it is an interesting question to pose to young people as it requires them to think about the human race and our planet as a whole. It asks students to define who we are and what we have done.

Q. I don’t mean to ask this disrespectfully, but there are some experts on A.L.S. who insist that you can’t possibly suffer from the condition. They say you’ve done far too well, in their opinion. How do you respond to this kind of speculation?

A. Maybe I don’t have the most common kind of motor neuron disease, which usually kills in two or three years. It has certainly helped that I have had a job and that I have been looked after so well.

I don’t have much positive to say about motor neuron disease. But it taught me not to pity myself, because others were worse off and to get on with what I still could do. I’m happier now than before I developed the condition. I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap.

Q. Given all you’ve experienced, what words would you offer someone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, perhaps A.L.S.?

A. My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.

Q. About the Large Hadron Collider, the supercollider in Switzerland, there were such high hopes for it when it was opened. Are you disappointed in it?

A. It is too early to know what the L.H.C. will reveal. It will be two years before it reaches full power. When it does, it will work at energies five times greater than previous particle accelerators.

We can guess at what this will reveal, but our experience has been that when we open up a new range of observations, we often find what we had not expected. That is when physics becomes really exciting, because we are learning something new about the universe.

Q. I’m wondering about your book “A Brief History of Time.” Were you surprised by the enormous success of it? Do you believe that most of your readers understood it? Or is it enough that they were interested and wanted to? Or, in another way: what are the implications of your popular books for science education?

A. I had not expected “A Brief History of Time” to be a best seller. It was my first popular book and aroused a great deal of interest.

Initially, many people found it difficult to understand. I therefore decided to try to write a new version that would be easier to follow. I took the opportunity to add material on new developments since the first book, and I left out some things of a more technical nature. This resulted in a follow-up entitled “A Briefer History of Time,” which is slightly briefer, but its main claim would be to make it more accessible.

Q. Though you avoid stating your own political beliefs too openly, you entered into the health care debate here in the United States last year. Why did you do that?

A. I entered the health care debate in response to a statement in the United States press in summer 2009 which claimed the National Health Service in Great Britain would have killed me off, were I a British citizen. I felt compelled to make a statement to explain the error.

I am British, I live in Cambridge, England, and the National Health Service has taken great care of me for over 40 years. I have received excellent medical attention in Britain, and I felt it was important to set the record straight. I believe in universal health care. And I am not afraid to say so.

Q. Here on Earth, the last few months have just been devastating. What were your feelings as you read of earthquakes, revolutions, counter-revolutions and nuclear meltdowns in Japan? Have you been as personally shaken up as the rest of us?

A. I have visited Japan several times and have always been shown wonderful hospitality. I am deeply saddened for my Japanese colleagues and friends, who have suffered such a catastrophic event. I hope there will be a global effort to help Japan recover. We, as a species, have survived many natural disasters and difficult situations, and I know that the human spirit is capable of enduring terrible hardships.

Q. If it is possible to time-travel, as some physicists claim, at least theoretically, is possible, what is the single moment in your life you would like to return to? This is another way of asking, what has been the most joyful moment you’ve known?

A. I would go back to 1967, and the birth of my first child, Robert. My three children have brought me great joy.

Q. Scientists at Fermilab recently announced something that one of our reporters described as “a suspicious bump in their data that could be evidence of a new elementary particle or even, some say, a new force of nature.” What did you think when you heard about it? A. It is too early to be sure. If it helps us to understand the universe, that will surely be a good thing. But first, the result needs to be confirmed by other particle accelerators.

Q. I don’t want to tire you out, especially if doing answers is so difficult. But I’m wondering: The speech you gave the other night here in Tempe, “My Brief History,” was very personal. Were you trying to make a statement on the record so that people would know who you are?

A. (After five minutes.) I hope my experience will help other people.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/10/science/10hawking.html?_r=1&ref=space