Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Hawking

Martin Rees: Stephen Hawking at 70

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Astronomer royal and master of Trinity College, Cambridge. Like Hawking, he studied under Dennis Sciama in the 1960s

'Scientific superstar' Stephen Hawking turns 70 on 8 January 2012. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

I first met Stephen in 1964. I was in my first week as a Cambridge graduate student. He was two years ahead of me in his studies – but already unsteady on his feet and speaking with difficulty. I learned that he might not live long enough even to finish his PhD.

Astronomers are used to large numbers. But few could be as huge as the odds I’d have given, back then, against him reaching his 70th birthday – after astonishing achievements that have made him the most famous living scientist.

In his first few years of research, he came up with a succession of insights into the nature of black holes (then a very new idea) and how our universe began. These earned him election to the Royal Society at the exceptionally early age of 32.

He was by then so frail that we guessed he could scale no further heights. But this was still just the beginning. He then worked, as I did, at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. I would often push his wheelchair into his office. He would sit motionless for hours reading a book on quantum field theory – not a subject that he had hitherto engaged with. He couldn’t even turn the pages without help. I wondered what was going through his mind, and if his powers were failing. But within a year he had his greatest “eureka moment” – encapsulated in an equation that he wants on his gravestone. He discovered a profound and unexpected link between gravity and quantum theory that has helped set the agenda for fundamental physics ever since.

He has probably done as much as anyone else since Einstein to extend our grasp of gravity, space and time. And he continues to write technical papers and attend premier conferences – doubly remarkable in a subject where few healthy researchers stay so long at the frontiers.

But the second half of Stephen’s life has been a crescendo of fame and celebrity. When A Brief History of Time appeared, the printers made some errors (a picture was upside down), and the publishers tried to recall the stock. To their amazement, all copies had already been sold. This was the first inkling that the book was destined for runaway success. The concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos grabbed people’s imagination. Had he achieved equal distinction in, say, genetics rather than cosmology, his triumph of intellect against adversity probably wouldn’t have achieved such worldwide acclaim.

After his disease was diagnosed [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis] Stephen’s expectations dropped to zero. He says that everything that happened since then was a bonus.

And what a triumph his life has been. His name will live in the annals of science; millions around the world have had their cosmic horizons widened by his books and TV appearances; and even more have been inspired by a unique human achievement against all the odds….
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Written by physicsgg

January 2, 2012 at 8:53 am


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Stephen Hawking seeks help to make voice heard

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Graduate Assistant to Stephen Hawking

The above post is expected to become available shortly, with a starting date around 20th-27th February 2012.  The salary is expected to be in the region of £25k; the exact value will be confirmed in the near future.

Disclaimer: This is not an official job applications page, however similar it may look! The official applications process will be started when the post has been properly advertised, probably in mid-January. We will not be able to offer the post to anyone on the strength of this unofficial submission alone; we can only direct people to apply through the official channel. However, if you fit our requirements, we would like to hear from you.

The post is more accurately described by the title “Technical Assistant to Stephen Hawking.” It is not a PhD or Post-Doc position for academics looking to study physics, but a purely technical post to allow Prof. Hawking to function within the physics community and as a public speaker.

The original purpose of this position was “to aid Professor Hawking in those areas which he has difficulty due to his disability.” The job has since expanded and now includes:

  • Managing national and international travel for Prof. Hawking and his care team. Expect to spend around 3 months per year abroad!
  • Development and maintenance of Professor Hawking’s communication and speech systems
  • Procurement and maintenance of his wheelchairs and accessible van
  • Preparation of lecture graphics and public speaking
  • Dealing with the media and press
  • Answering inquiries from the public and maintaining the website

The post requires a wide range of skills, most importantly:

  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Maintenance of “black box” systems with no instruction manual or technical support
  • Computer literacy
  • Electronics knowledge
  • Ability to speak to a large audience
  • Ability to show others how to use complex systems

The role of ‘Graduate Assistant to Professor Hawking’ is funded as a research post at the University of Cambridge. Normally it has been under a 12 month contract, although recent graduate assistants have stayed on for several years.

For the application form, click here.

Written by physicsgg

December 30, 2011 at 7:57 am


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Life in the Universe by Stephen Hawking

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In this talk, I would like to speculate a little, on the development of life in the universe, and in particular, the development of intelligent life. I shall take this to include the human race, even though much of its behaviour through out history, has been pretty stupid, and not calculated to aid the survival of the species. Two questions I shall discuss are, ‘What is the probability of life existing else where in the universe?’ and, ‘How may life develop in the future?’

It is a matter of common experience, that things get more disordered and chaotic with time. This observation can be elevated to the status of a law, the so-called Second Law of Thermodynamics. This says that the total amount of disorder, or entropy, in the universe, always increases with time. However, the Law refers only to the total amount of disorder. The order in one body can increase, provided that the amount of disorder in its surroundings increases by a greater amount. This is what happens in a living being. One can define Life to be an ordered system that can sustain itself against the tendency to disorder, and can reproduce itself. That is, it can make similar, but independent, ordered systems. To do these things, the system must convert energy in some ordered form, like food, sunlight, or electric power, into disordered energy, in the form of heat. A laptopIn this way, the system can satisfy the requirement that the total amount of disorder increases, while, at the same time, increasing the order in itself and its offspring. A living being usually has two elements: a set of instructions that tell the system how to sustain and reproduce itself, and a mechanism to carry out the instructions. In biology, these two parts are called genes and metabolism. But it is worth emphasising that there need be nothing biological about them. For example, a computer virus is a program that will make copies of itself in the memory of a computer, and will transfer itself to other computers. Thus it fits the definition of a living system, that I have given. Like a biological virus, it is a rather degenerate form, because it contains only instructions or genes, and doesn’t have any metabolism of its own. Instead, it reprograms the metabolism of the host computer, or cell. Some people have questioned whether viruses should count as life, because they are parasites, and can not exist independently of their hosts. But then most forms of life, ourselves included, are parasites, in that they feed off and depend for their survival on other forms of life. I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature, that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image. I shall return to electronic forms of life later on…… Read the rest of this entry »

Written by physicsgg

August 28, 2011 at 8:23 pm