USU faculty member praises Stephen Hawking for legacy of knowledge

Utah State University physicist Maria Rodriguez, second from left, with Stephen Hawking and colleagues at the International Centre for Theoretical Cosmology Conference in Cambridge, England in July 2017. Photo courtesy: Maria Rodriguez

LOGAN, Utah, March 14, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — Maria Rodriguez, assistant professor in Utah State University’s Department of Physics, was sad to hear of the death of pioneering British physicist Stephen Hawking, but she was grateful she got a chance to meet him.

“He was one of the leading scientists of our time; perhaps of all time,” Rodriguez said in a statement released by USU.

Rodriguez had the opportunity to meet Hawking last July, while attending the International Centre for Theoretical Cosmology Conference in the United Kingdom. The conference, titled “Gravity and Black Holes,” was a gathering of fewer than 100 scientists involved in gravitational waves research.

Rodriguez and husband Oscar Varela, also an assistant professor in USU’s Department of Physics, were invited by Hawking to a small celebration at his home in honor of his 75th birthday.

“We were thrilled,” she said. “The invitation read ‘an evening with friends.’”

“Dr. Hawking welcomed us into his personal quarters and I was touched by his humility,” Rodriguez said. “He was a very gracious host.”

Guests sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Hawking and shared a “traditional British meal,” Rodriguez says.

She dared not ask for a photo with her hero at the party, she says, but had an opportunity later during the conference to join Hawking and colleagues for picture.

“He was so kind and I’m very touched by this image.”

Rodriguez said many are surprised Hawking never received a Nobel Prize in recognition of his accomplishments.

“A Nobel Prize in science usually marks some kind of measurable conclusion,” she said. “Hawking was a theoretical physics and his innovative theories have yet to be tested. I think, in the future, we’ll appreciate Hawking’s genius even more.”

In honor of Hawking, Rodriguez is devoting a class this week to one of the scientist’s early papers on black holes from the so-called “Golden Age” on research in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He wrote gorgeous papers with spectacular physics,” she said. “Yet he explained very complex issues in ways everyone can understand. I think my students will enjoy his work.”

She added that theoretical physicists need to share their work through writing and travel.

“It’s amazing that Hawking, in spite of his debilitating illness, strove to travel throughout the world and connect with as many people as possible,” Rodriguez said. “He left us with an invaluable gift.”


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