Hawking Inspires Second Straight Sellout Crowd in Aggieland
COLLEGE STATION —
A capacity audience sat spellbound Monday (April 5) evening in Texas A&M University’s Rudder Auditorium as world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking presented his lecture “Out of a Black Hole” yet laughed eagerly when he punctuated the standing-room-only event with trademark bits of humor, clearly indicating that his famed wisdom and wit remain as intact as his legendary crowd appeal.
Nearly 2,500 people were on hand in the auditorium to hear the 68 year-old astrophysicist’s presentation on black holes, while another 750 filled the designated overflow area in Rudder Theater. Tickets for the rare public lecture by the internationally renowned Cambridge University scientist were sold out within the first day of being made available to the public last Thursday.
According to Rudder Theater Complex officials, Hawking is the only person to sell out Rudder Auditorium twice for a public lecture or similar speaking event. He first came to Texas A&M in 1995 and has visited the campus regularly since 2003. It was during Hawking’s most recent visit in 2007 that he first sold out Rudder Auditorium for his previous public lecture, “The Origin of the Universe.”
Highly regarded as a leading expert on the subject of black holes — a phrase coined by American physicist John Wheeler — Hawking has studied them for the last 35 years. His talk Monday focused on their history, his own research and ideas on black holes, and how they aren’t as “black” as previously thought.
Black holes, Hawking said, form when stars run out of fuel and collapse under their own gravitational pull. For many years, it was assumed that nothing could ever escape from a black hole, but in 1975 Hawking showed that they actually emit particles. This can be understood using the uncertainty principle developed by physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1923, which states that the more precisely the position of a particle is known, the less precisely its speed is known, and vice versa.
“This means that if a particle is in a small black hole, you know its position quite accurately,” Hawking explained. “Its speed, therefore, will be rather uncertain and can be more than the speed of light, which would allow the particle to escape from the black hole.”
Rendered nearly completely paralyzed by a degenerative neuron disorder and speaking through a computerized voice synthesizer, Hawking captivated the crowd for his entire 35-minute lecture. Senior physics major Kenric Davies, who also attended Hawking’s 2007 Texas A&M lecture, said he was still in just as much awe of Hawking Monday as he was the first time he saw him three years ago.
“It is always a little mind-blowing to be in the same room as someone as famous as Stephen Hawking,” Davies added. “But being there and listening to him speak about his own thoughts on the universe was something else entirely. Hawking’s lecture about black holes was something for everyone because he knows how to make something so complex accessible to a wide range of people in the audience.”
Freshman biology major Lucero Lopez, who attended with several friends, expressed similar sentiments.
“I learned so much about black holes, and physics in general, in such an interesting way,” Lopez said. “And he has such a great sense of humor.”
Hawking, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest scientific minds of this generation, rose to international prominence in 1988 with his best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time” and has since become a pop-culture icon, going so far as to portray himself on various TV shows, such as “Futurama” and “The Simpsons.” Despite being wheelchair-bound, he maintains a positive outlook and remains a pioneer in the scientific community as well as the lecture circuit, accepting occasional speaking engagements at college campuses across the nation.
Explaining that black holes are not the inescapable prisons that scientists once thought they were, Hawking closed his talk with a good-natured pun.
“So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up,” he said, generating laughs from the audience. “There is a way out.”
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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