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A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME WITH HAWKING AT CALTECH

On January 8th Stephen Hawking will be celebrating his 75th birthday

 

A frequent visitor to Caltech over the years, spending a month almost every year, Hawking’s first association with Caltech came in 1974 when he was offered the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar Visiting Professorship for 1974-75 academic year.

Shown above: Stephen Hawking, 1975

During that visit, Hawking was interviewed on whether he believed that humans would ever discover the ultimate laws that control the universe. Hawking replied:

"I rather hope not. There may be ultimate answers, but if there are, I would be sorry if we were to find them. For my own sake I would like very much to find them, but their discovery would leave nothing for those coming after me to seek. Each generation builds on the advances of the previous generation, and this is as it should be. As human beings, we need the quest."

Hawking's professorship in 1974-75 would include not only a salary, but a car and new electric wheelchair, as well as a house, where he moved in with his wife Jane and their two children, Robert and Lucy. The house was conveniently located across the street from the Caltech campus, at 535 So. Wilson, today known as the Fitzhugh House, which contains the USGS offices.

Shown above: Hawking and family enjoying their Caltech home, 1975.

While at Caltech, Hawking also joined Kip Thorne's TAPIR (Theoretical Astrophysics Including Relativity and Cosmology) group, among its members a graduate student by the name of David Lee, Caltech's present Chair of the Board of Trustees.

 

Shown above: Back, from left to right: Vladimir Braginsky, Don Page, David Lee, Kip Thorne. Front, from left to right: Carlton Caves, Steve Slutz, Sándor Kovács, Stephen Hawking

In 1975, Thorne and Hawking made their first famous bet, questioning the existence of black holes—specifically, whether the binary star Cygnus X-1 was a black hole. In 1990, Hawking acknowledged that he had lost the bet, which was the first of several that he was to make with Thorne and others.

On September 24, 1991, a second famous bet was made—this time between Hawking, Thorne, and John Preskill—on whether or not naked singularities exist. As outlined in a 1997 E&S article regarding this bet: No one disputes that singularities can exist, but Hawking believes that a singularity can occur only inside a black hole, where it cannot be seen. According to Thorne and Preskill, there should be situations in which singularities could exist outside of black holes and therefore be observed. Thanks to a supercomputer simulation done at the University of Texas by Matthew Choptuik, where they were shown they could occur, Preskill concluded, "Basically it could exist only in a computer. But it's the sort of event that would be allowed to happen, and that's what the bet was all about." Alas, on February 5, 1997, Hawking conceded the bet, but only on a "technicality" as he put it.

 

Shown above: John Preskill, Kip Thorne, and Stephen Hawking committing to their bet. February 6, 1997.

Yet another bet was made the following day, on February 6, regarding Hawking's theory on the black hole information paradox and whether black holes destroy information. Hawking and Thorne argued that information was lost in a black hole, whereas Preskill believed information could escape and be retrieved. However, by July 2004, at a Dublin conference on general relativity and gravitation, Hawking conceded to Preskill (Thorne has not as yet).

 

In June 2000, on the occasion of Kip Thorne's 60th birthday, Hawking came to Caltech to honor his old friend and colleague, and participated in Kipfest in June 2000, a three-day symposium, where he delivered a lecture entitled, "Protecting the Order of Things in Time". -LK

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