Trinity Professors on Stephen Hawking | Facebook

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Trinity University Physics & Astronomy Professors Dr. Dennis Ugolini and Dr. Nirav Mehta share their perspective on Stephen Hawking and the impact he...
When I was 13, my family moved to Illinois,
and I lived about 10 miles away from Fermilab and the accelerator lab in Batavia, Illinois,
and my 7th grade science class took a field trip there, and it was Disneyland. It was just the craziest thing I had ever
seen in my life, and at one point, they took us into a room and they showed us a video. It was called "The Creation of the Universe,"
and it had Stephen Hawking in it talking, at a point in his life when he could still
talk, about the Big Bang and how far back we could look to the Big Bang itself. And at the end of the video, there was an
analogy where they were walking up the steps of a lighthouse, and each step was a factor
of 10 and closer to the Big Bang. So one step was one second after. The next step was a 10th of a second. The next was a hundredth, and so on. And every few steps, there'd be a little shuttered
lighthouse window, and they'd open it up and they'd look to see what was happening in the
universe at that moment in time. And they made their way up, and they finally
get to the top of the lighthouse and there was this bright light shining behind this
shuttered window. And they said, "here we are, we're at the
very instant. This is what happened at the very beginning. This is how the big bang works". And you go as to open the window and it's
locked. And they said, "well we don't know what happened". I was mad! And I was 13, but I was angry. You built me up for this big conclusion, but
of course, that's not a known thing, not even now. But the combination of that visit, that analogy,
and again, listening to Stephen Hawking talk about these things in this inspiring way of
look at all these things we don't know that we still have to find out. That's how I ended up, first as a particle
physicist, and then later switching into other things. Originally, he wrote a paper that said that
a black hole cannot shrink in size, it must always grow. But then after a while, it became clear that
in order to do it right, you had to take into account quantum mechanical effects when you
were studying the physics of black holes, and he predicted that black holes, will in
fact, emit radiation, purely as a quantum mechanical process, and that radiation was
later called Hawking radiation. He is one of the forefathers of how black
holes work, or that the idea of a black hole, or singularity, even exists. I don't know that you can solely put that
at his doorstep. There were a lot of people, Jacob Beckenstein,
Roger Penrez, Kip Thorne. But he is one of the very small handful of
people who did the early work in that subject. And it's kind of fun, we actually teach a
little bit about this in my thermo class, so black holes, what is the temperature of
a black hole? Black holes are among the coldest objects
in the universe, They are, the massive ones. A solar massive black hole is extremely cold. The smaller they get, the hotter they are. And so these very, very tiny black holes that,
you know, people were saying, you know, might be created at CERN. Those are so hot that they evaporate very
quickly. So they're so hot that they just radiate away
all of their mass in a very short amount of time. There's a whole generation of scientists that
I would imagine were around my age, right, who this was when they were in junior high
or high school who are scientists in part or in full because of inspiration from this
book. He has a way of phrasing things in a way that
make it sound like you are on the precipice of something great and there's just one step
away. And I know there's a tendency when you are
coming up and taking physics of thinking, "well, that's it. Everyone's solved everything, what's left?" Right, I mean you have to take years and years
of classes before you find the edge of what we know. This makes it feel like there's edges everywhere,
and we're so close, and if you could just do this one thing, you could be the person
that pushes over the edge, and so I think it inspired a lot of people that way. He liked exciting, he liked making physics
exciting for other scientists, as well. He was famous for making bets. And as far as the popularization of science,
I mean, he wasn't the first. Carl Sagan came before. He's not the last because we have Neil deGrasse
Tyson now. I think every generation has their own spokesperson
for the subject, and beyond just his generation, I think it's important, the idea that making
science popular and accessible is, itself important, on top of doing science. If there's a lasting contribution, it's the
idea that works like this have an enormous, intrinsic value, and that scientists need
to make it a part of their mission to reach out and make their discoveries accessible.

Posted 2 years ago in Science & Tech - .