Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hawking report

Stephen Hawking spoke at CERN this afternoon in a sold out show. At least . . . it would have been sold out if tickets were available and I suppose it is actually more of a ‘colloquium’ than a ‘show.’

Anticipating a large crowd, my colleague and I arrived at 1:45 p.m. for a 3:30 talk and the auditorium was already nearly filled. I’m pleased also to say that the crowd was almost exclusively the 35 and under crowd. Amid these physics-loving, hipster types, with artfully disheveled hair the atmosphere was truly pre-concert: a few cold beers and Wilco-oozing speakers would not have been amiss. Folks were making themselves comfortable, swapping jokes, stories and snacks. I saw one girl with a large bag of kettle corn and a couple of lads splitting a bucket of pretzels.

This none-the-less being CERN people observations were peppered with statistics.

Guy on his mobile, “Dude you better get here soon, I’d say the seats are 75% filled.” One guy to another guy, “If these were benches instead of seats, 50% more people could probably sit in here.”

In this spirit we waited, the air in the room growing more and more stuffy, until Hawking entered. The room hushed reverently and there was much camera clicking.

Seeing him speak in person was a worthwhile experience, even if I was pretty much lost after the third slide of his presentation. (If you’d like to venture in to this territory, you can see a video of the presentation here.)

If you want the punch line of the presentation, I’ll distill it down for you: Standard Field Theory and Quantum Gravity lead to the spontaneous formation of universes.

He will also be giving a less-technical talk at the University of Geneva in a week's time—I might try to catch that too.