A life revisited

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Stephen Hawking’s Legacy Will Live On / View Guide

1. What is the earliest article that you can find about Hawking and black holes?

Possible student response: The Science News article “Black hole power,” published 4/13/1974, explores mini black holes that could be relatively close to the Earth. Stephen Hawking had only recently proposed that there could be mini black holes, far smaller than conventional stellar black holes. Mini black holes might have been created in the high-density early moments of the universe after the Big Bang. Hawking encouraged astronomers to search for signs that such mini black holes might exist within our solar system. Physicists Lowell Wood, Thomas Weaver and John Nuckolls took Hawking’s suggestion even further. These physicists, of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., had been working on ways to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion reactions with lasers. The researchers suggested that a mini black hole’s intense gravitational field may be able to compress and heat hydrogen to ignite energy-producing fusion reactions. Most of the resulting helium and energy would escape from the black hole. That escaping energy could be harvested and converted into electricity.

2. Do black holes destroy or preserve information? Find an article that explains Hawking’s proposed solution to the black hole information paradox.

Possible student response: The Science News article “Hawking proposes solution to black hole problem,” published 8/26/2015, describes how information might be preserved in black holes. Quantum physics says that quantum information cannot be destroyed. But any particles falling into a black hole are hidden from the rest of the universe, until eventually the black hole evaporates due to Hawking radiation. That apparent destruction of information is termed the black hole information paradox. To resolve the paradox, Hawking and colleagues proposed that as objects pass through an event horizon (the point at which light can no longer escape) and enter a black hole, the objects leave behind detailed images or holograms that retain the objects’ information. Such holograms take the form of light orbiting the black hole at the event horizon, never falling into the black hole, but never able to escape either. Much more work is needed to investigate this idea.

3. Find a Science News for Students Cool Jobs article that mentions Stephen Hawking. Why is he included in the article and what is the article about?

Possible student response: The Science News for Students article “Cool Jobs: Keeping TV science honest,” published 9/8/2016, gives the inside scoop on what it takes to make popular TV shows about science and medicine realistic. The article highlights scientists who are hired to work on the scripts, acting and even the sets of shows such as Bones, Chicago Med and The Big Bang Theory. David Saltzberg, a physics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for making sure science used in The Big Bang Theory is accurate, even when the science is used in the satirical sense. Stephen Hawking is mentioned in the article because he made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory