Renowned Cosmologist Draws Sold-Out Crowd

Andrea Lu covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected]





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Last night, nearly 3,000 people received a mini lesson on the origin of the universe from perhaps the world’s most famous cosmologist, Stephen Hawking.

Hawking spoke to a packed audience in Zellerbach Hall about how Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum theory explained the creation of the universe.

The event was also simultaneously broadcast to a sold-out Wheeler Auditorium, as well as Webcast live.

Hawking appeared as part of the “On the Same Page” program, which distributed 4,000 free copies of Hawking’s book “A Briefer History of Time” to freshmen and faculty members.

Hawking, largely regarded as one of the world’s most popular scientists, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neural disorder that attacks and destroys the motor nerves.

“Hawking is a combination of his brilliance and the challenges he faced in his life,” said Mark Richards, dean of the physical sciences in the College of Letters and Science. “Someone told me he was told to choose an easier subject for his Ph.D. dissertation because doctors didn’t think he would live to finish it. Now he’s 65 years old, and he’s still producing science.”

His lecture, which touched upon subjects such as black holes and spacetime, was peppered with quips that drew laughs from the audience.

“If one believed that the universe had a beginning, the obvious question was, what happened before the beginning,” Hawking said. “What was God doing before He made the world? Was He preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

According to Hawking, the origin of the universe can be depicted as bubbles in a steam in boiling water. Small bubbles that appear and then collapse represent mini universes that expand only to disintegrate.

A few “bubbles,” Hawking said, will grow to a certain size until they are safe from collapse, and will begin to develop galaxies, stars and eventually human life.

“The universe began with accelerating expansion which we call inflation, because the universe grows in the way prices go up in some countries,” Hawking said. “It expanded in a million trillion trillionths of a second.”

His appearance was one of the most popular events ever hosted at Zellerbach, with one of the fastest ticket sales and a 400-name waiting list.

“I wanted to see his views on the universe,” said freshman David Litwak, an electrical engineering and computer science major. “I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see a great scientist.”

Hawking’s visit caps a series of events held in anticipation of his arrival. Faculty and administrators such as Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes have been leading discussions on subjects related to Hawking’s book.

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