Prestige more than science.
"Ontario institute finally gets Stephen Hawking"
June 5th, 2010
June 5th, 2010
Talk about winning the brain-drain wars. Ontario has landed what may be the best one in the world.
After years of waiting and academic oneupmanship, Stephen Hawking, formerly of Cambridge University, finally arrives this weekend for a visit.
Almost two years ago, rumours began of Hawking’s move to Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics from Cambridge where he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics for 30 years, a position once held by Isaac Newton.
Reports of a tug-of-war for Hawking between the venerable English institution and the heavily funded upstart research facility began in 2008. At the time, Cambridge denied any such move, but last year announced Hawking’s retirement in October.
That was after Perimeter director Neil Turok, a one-time colleague of Hawking’s at Cambridge, left England to take up his new role, in part because the university would not spend $40 million to expand its Centre for Theoretical Cosmology (which Turok headed) to create a Hawking Institute.
In the summer of 2008, Turok told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, “He plans to visit me in Ontario next year for a month or so, and we would certainly welcome him coming for longer.” But poor health last year prevented that.
Hawking now holds a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute with construction of the Stephen Hawking Centre underway. This is his first visit.
Scientists across Canada, theoretical physicists in particular, are giddy about having a man whose stated goal is nothing short of “a complete understanding of the universe” in their own backyard, at least until July, when Hawking’s visit will end. But many more are planned.
“As a student it helps bring attention to the field,” says Saba Zuberi, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, who specializes in particle physics within the field of theoretical physics. “Bringing this kind of physics celebrity draws other top researchers, it’s a great resource. The type of lectures and interactions that will now be available is something we’re definitely excited about.”
In a statement from the Perimeter Institute, Turok highlights Hawking’s communication skills, despite the physical deterioration wrought by Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “He is an exceptional communicator, whether to other scientists or to the wider public. We are delighted he has agreed to deliver a televised lecture, to be shown across Canada.”
That address will be broadcast at 8 p.m. June 20 on TVO and promises viewers the same insights that made the physicist’s best-selling books A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell so popular with mainstream readers.
In the Perimeter Institute statement, Hawking is quoted as saying, “Our field of theoretical physics has been the most successful and cost-effective in all of science. Where would we be today without Newton, Maxwell and Einstein? Many great challenges lie ahead. Where this new understanding will lead, is impossible to say for sure. What we can say with confidence is that expanding the perimeter of our knowledge will be the key to our future.”