Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Although he probably never expected a career in physics would warrant it, Stephen Hawking received a ℠rock star´ reception to his speaking engagement at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California on Tuesday.
The 71-year-old scientist covered a wide range of topics during his speech, from the past and future of astrophysics to the existence of God.
“It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics,” Hawking said, as cited by the LA Times. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I´m happy if I have made a small contribution.”
“The fact that we human beings, who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph,” he added.
In looking to the future, Hawking suggested that studying the universe´s dark matter could lead to the next major breakthrough in cosmology.
“The missing link in cosmology is the nature of dark matter and dark energy,” Hawking said in his address.
Citing data from recent observations, he noted that “normal matter is only 5 percent of the energy density of the known universe; 27 percent is dark matter, 68 percent is dark energy.”
Dark matter and dark energy are currently two of the great unknowns in the cosmos. While dark matter can’t be seen or felt directly, scientists infer its existence based on calculations and observations of spiral galaxies, reports UPI.
Hawking also dipped his toe into somewhat controversial waters by light-heartedly joking about the existence of God — asking, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
The 71-year-old physicist also invoked the late Pope John Paul II during his speech who, he said, suggested that scientists stop investigating how the world was made, as this was a divine act.
Hawking appeared to disagree musing, according to CNET, “God really does play dice.”
After giving his prepared remarks, Hawking answered questions submitted by Caltech students in advance of the event.
“We are starting to be able to control machines with our thoughts. Besides your wheelchair, what´s one thing you´d like to use that for?” one question asked.
“What I would really like to control is not machines, but people,” he retorted to applause and laughter.
According to the LA Times, many people viewed Hawking´s speech as they would any other momentous event, like a rock concert or major sports championship. The buzz surrounding the speech was obviously a testament to the charisma of the aging scientist who is wheelchair-bound and naturally speechless due to a life-long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig´s disease.
The Times reported the story of 26-year-old Jordan Hassay, who worked overtime, drove from Hollywood to Pasadena, and waited 12 hours in line just to hear Hawking speak.
“It was really fascinating,” he told the paper. “I´d read his works, but it was a very special experience to hear him speak.”