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Retired Carleton Physics prof reflects on meeting Stephen Hawking
Published Wednesday, March 14, 2018 4:52PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, March 14, 2018 6:23PM EDT
Scientists around the world and here in Ottawa are mourning the loss of Stephen Hawking.
Many admired his work from afar; it impacted their decision to pursue physics. For others there was a personal connection.
Retired Carleton University physics professor David Sinclair shares a field of science with Stephen Hawking but something else, too. Sinclair, who is now a Distinguished Research Professor at Carleton met Stephen Hawking in Sudbury in 1998 when the renowned physicist paid a visit to Snolab, an underground physics lab that was specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics.
“To meet him and talk to him as a person, it was a wonderful opportunity,” Sinclair says, as he looks through photos of the visit.
Sinclair says Hawking was curious to see the lab and wanted to know how we accomplished what we were doing.
“He immediately questioned, “How did you get radon down to a level you could manage it?” and that was one of our major problems and he understand practical problems like that.”
Given the lab was 2 kilometres underground and a clean room, getting him into the lab took some work. So, a special rail car was devised.
Professor Sinclair says it eventually became known as “the Hawking Mobile.”
Inside a classroom at Carleton University, physics students are listening to a lecture. While these students never met Hawking, his work influenced their desire to pursue a career in physics.
“He's been a real pioneer,” says Ben Hansson, who is studying 3rd year astrophysics, “one of the greatest minds of our age so it’s just an incredible loss.”
Adam Smith, who is a 3rd year theoretical physics student adds, “Reading his book is what made me realize science is interesting, incredible and it can be fun.”
And so, at the Canada Science and Technology museum today, during March Break, science mixes with fun.
Shane Patey is with the museum, “Space is something that is always exciting to youth and Stephen Hawking really brought that into the mainstream and dug really deeply into what space is.”
And while not all these young minds knew who Stephen Hawking was, they did reflect about a man who metaphorically reached for the stars and made others believe they can do it, too.
“He made a big impact on science and my life,” says 14-year-old A.J. Monfette, “knowing he survived through that and could still talk but couldn't actually talk, it was amazing.”
“It teaches me that anybody can do anything,” adds 13-year-old Brayden Budd.
The ALS Society of Canada says Stephen Hawking gave their community hope and inspiration.
Tammy Moore, the Chief Executive Officer of the ALS Society of Canada, says the fact that Hawking lived well beyond the expected 2 to 5 years with ALS gives them hope that perhaps they, too, could be an outlier for this disease.
“And also he was inspiring,” Moore said in a telephone interview, “because he was never defined by his disease and he contributed in a big way to this world and his disease and disability never impaired his ability to contribute.”