Stephen Hawking: his impact on me

August 1998

18 years old, just admitted to a Software Engineering department which was my first choice back then, as naively as it could be!, after studying hard for 3 years. Going for vacation to celebrate the success of admittance with my dear cousin. And on one August night:

in a small part of Greece, a town of 8000 people, 35Km far from Athens, a summer cinema projector is showing “Contact“, one of my favorite sci-fi movies based on a wonderful novel by Carl Sagan. First of all i couldn’t understand why this movie was shown in this cinema, it was not a blockbuster, population’s interests were kind of ..not even remotely related to the script; the theme was alien (metaphorically as well as literally) to the community.

We sat next to a guy. My cousin introduced me to him and we started talking about our interests. With a sardonic smile he told me: “I’ll get you a book after the movie ends, wait for me”. Movie ends, we were waiting for him, it was midnight, temperature, weather, mood, all was perfect. He handed me “A brief history of time”. Oblivious to modern Physics I realized that my choice of getting admitted to a computer science department was wrong, plain wrong. I spent my vacation reading the book, again and again. And i decided to do physics “in the future” to calm myself down.

I never saw that guy again, don’t even remember his name.

15 years later

  • Couldn’t avoid it; got the computer science degree as fast as possible in order to:
  • Get admitted to Physics department in university of Athens, then in a US institution, and CERN which got me a degree and 2 MSc, studying Physics for 10 years.
  • Be able to understand Hawking’s work. In my opinion his greatest contributions were back in 70s-80s. Really fundamental ones. His books for the public were mostly iterative however. Few differences between A brief history of time, Universe in a nutshell, The Grand Design etc. And, as always, if you rely on the text and don’t do the math, you cannot grasp what Physics is really about. As in any exact science field.
  • I was taught Relativity by a professor that was a student in Kip Thorne’s class back in the 90s (yeap, the Nobel prize  winner last year and the scientist behind Interstellar) when he mentioned that Carl Sagan just called him and asked him to review the draft of ..Contact to make sure it was scientifically correct. Thorne and Hawking became famous for their public bets regarding the information paradox around black holes, the prizes were kind of interesting, especially to their wives.

20 years later

  • Stephen Hawking passes away on Pi day 2018 which happens to be Einstein’s birthday.
  • still avoiding to watch “The Theory of Everything”, too much emotional baggage.
  • Writing code for a living, full circle 🙂

Best book to read: Universe in a nutshell.
My favorite papers: Particle Creation by Black Holes – Commun. math. Phys. 43, 199—220 (1975)
The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics – Commun. math. Phys. 31, 161-170 (1973)
(open access for both)

Thank you.

image provided by Zero Gravity Corp

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