A few Caltech students had the chance to pick famed physicist Stephen Hawking’s brain on black holes and other topics after he gave a lecture on campus Tuesday.
The questions were submitted in advance; Hawking answered through a speech-generating device. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1963 and has spent much of his life in a wheelchair.
One Caltech student asked Hawking after the lecture if he believed in a theory that our universe was caused by a black hole in another universe.
Physicists widely “believe that it’s impossible for matter falling into a black hole to end up in another universe,” he replied.
Another student asked a question that appealed to the way Hawking communicates: “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?”
“What I would really like to control is not machines, but people,” he replied, to laughter and applause.
People leaving the auditorium after the event said they were inspired.
Hawking’s geek celebrity status followed him outside, where caretakers helped him into a car. Dozens of attendees rushed to snap photos with cellphone cameras.
When the car began to drive away, they applauded.
Hawking -- who stayed at the university for a year in the 1970s -- is a regular visitor to Caltech, where previous lectures have attracted similar crowds.
On Tuesday, he explored the origin of the universe and encouraged people to “be curious,” stressing the importance of space exploration as a way to sustain humanity.
“It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics,” Hawking said. “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.”
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