If there ever were a rock star celebrity in the field of theoretical physics and cosmology, Dr. Stephan Hawking is it. The British academic recently spoke at the California Institute of Technology on Tuesday and by all reports killed at the talk.
Lines began forming nearly 12 hours in advance of Hawking’s 8:00 p.m. lecture. The line would eventually grow to be a quarter of a mile long at one point. At least one person was observed offering $1,000 for a ticket with no taker at the offer. During the talk, Hawking focused on explaining the origin of the universe in a scientific way that did not require a divine origin. Despite all of the trials and travails that Hawking has endured, he continues to live an inspiring life for all lovers of science, maintaining a touch for bringing difficult science concepts to the masses that he has engaged in all of his life.
Hawking has struggled over the years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly down as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which he was diagnosed with in 1963 at the age of 21. Doctors gave him two years to live. Undeterred by diagnosis, Hawking proceed to receive his Ph.D. and conduct groundbreaking research in theoretical physics. Fifty years after the diagnosis Hawking continues to work in the scientific community, having published over 55 books, three of which are children’s books co-written with his daughter Lucy Hawking. One of his works, A Brief History of Time, spent 237 weeks on the British Sunday Times best-seller list, more then four years.
Hawking’s talk at CalTech focused on the origin of the universe. The primary focus of his talk was on the scientific cosmological explanations of the origins of the universe. He cited several theories, including an old Russian theory that the universe collapsed because of gravity and “bounced” back into its expansion, Fred Hoyle and Thomas Gold’s “steady state theory,” which states that there is no beginning and end to the universe and galaxies simply continuously form from spontaneously created matter, and explained how recent observations by space instruments and other scientific methods had proved them wrong.
At the end of the lecture Hawking outlined his own thoughts on the origin of the universe. He spoke about physicist Richard Feynman’s M-theory, which Hawking believes is the one of the more likely theories on the origin of the universe. M-theory states that multiple universes are generated from nothing. Each one has many possible histories and states of existence. Very few of these would have the possibility for life and even fewer of them would develop life.
Hawking took a few jabs at religion during his speech. Making a reference to Pope John Paul II admonishing the scientific community for investigating the beginnings of the universe, which the Pope claimed was “holy,” Hawking joked, “I was glad to not be thrown into an inquisition.”
The talk was a smashing success with the CalTech needing to fill a second auditorium and project the lecture on a screen to a crowd that watched from a grassy field, with over 1,000 people sitting in the field to watch. Hawking spends a month at CalTech, despite his condition, to talk with fellow scientists about developments in cosmology and theoretical physics.