Stephen Hawking returns to CERN

Stephen Hawking visiting the CERN Control Centre.

If you happened to pass through Building 4 during the first weeks of September, you might have noticed the name of Stephen Hawking on one of the doors on the second floor, which hosts most of CERN theorists’ offices. Three years after his last visit to CERN, Stephen Hawking gladly accepted the invitation from the University of Geneva to hold a public lecture on the occasion of its 450th anniversary and requested an office at CERN for the length of his stay. The "master of the Universe", as the Geneva University journal dubbed him, attracted over 4000 people to his lecture on "The Creation of the Universe" held on 15 September in the Main Auditorium of Uni Dufour. His more technical colloquium on the same subject at CERN a week earlier, was no less popular and quite "provocative" according to some of the physicists in the audience. With his repeated reference to the "non-need" for a "creating agent" for the Universe, more than one member of the audience was induced to think that his proposal for "boundary conditions" of the Universe would aim at scientifically disproving the existence of God. "Hawking’s and Hertog’s initial conditions are really an incredible achievement from the theoretical physics point of view", says Luis Alvarez-Gaume of the Theory Group and organizer of the colloquium. "They provide a completely different way of looking at the Universe and a completely different interpretation of quantum mechanics. From the cosmological, theological point of view, however, I would take it with a grain of salt since some aspects are technically not fully developed, and many issues concerning the quantum structure of space and time are not clarified".

The Theory Group of CERN’s Physics Department offered Hawking the typical stay of a visiting scientist, with visits to the CCC led by Paul Collier and to the AMS experiment led by Samuel Ting (he had visited ATLAS in 2006). Hawking, whose dream to go to Space will be soon fulfilled by British billionaire Richard Branson, particularly enjoyed Ting’s in-depth explanations of the complexity of the AMS experiment, due to lift off onboard Space Shuttle Discovery in 2010. He also followed with great interest the guided tour into a crowded CCC with Paul Collier. We take his concluding remarks on leaving the CCC as a good omen for the LHC’s forthcoming start-up: "I hope this time it works!".

Paola Catapano

Watch the movie with highlights of the visit: