A Brush With Greatness – Stephen Hawking and Me?

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   Posted by: BJ Johnson in blown glass

Sometimes, surprises can be a very good thing. Many times they're not but this one is very welcome and special, indeed. Late Friday afternoon a message arrived from Donna Stevens, our good friend at the Planetary Society, informing us of their surprise.

Stephen Hawking's Cosmos Award

As many of you are aware, Joy and I create the Planetary Society's Cosmos Award blown glass Saturns to be bestowed upon individuals for their outstanding public presentation of science. Each is produced in collaboration with Rick Sternbach, of Star Trek Production Design fame, who commissions us and also crafts the fine ebonized base over which our delicate glass sculptures float.

This particular one, the third in the series, was presented to Theoretical Physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking at The University of Cambridge, England. Superb, in and of itself, but wait... there's more!

Stephen Hawking Exhibit Entrance

Turns out that The Science Museum in London has mounted an exhibit: Stephen Hawking: A 70th Birthday Celebration.

From The Science Museum:

"The display features objects and papers primarily sourced from his own archives including handwritten notes on work with Roger Penrose, his drawing of the Hawking Radiation mechanism, the annotated script for a 1999 guest appearance on The Simpsons, and the blue suit he wore for a zero-gravity flight in 2007. The display also includes a specially recorded message and a selection of personal photographs from Hawking’s life and career that haven’t been seen before. A rarely-seen 1978 portrait by David Hockney is also featured.

This first ever display of items from the Hawking archive encourages visitors to reflect on the relationship between Hawking’s scientific achievements, particularly the work that established his reputation in the 1960s and ‘70s, and his immense success in popularizing astrophysics. Hawking and his daughter Lucy have been involved in the selection of objects for display."

Stephen Hawking Curiosities Exhibit - The Science Museum, London

Among these items significant to his life is our beautiful Saturn, floating amid the many diagrams, sketches, papers, books, photographs, models and mementos collected over the years. To say that we are honored again is an understatement. The juxtaposition of creativities, his with ours, is staggering. Never in my wildest dreams... (and I have some pretty wild dreams).

Stephen W. Hawking

I had hoped that we would somehow come to meet one day. Dr. Hawking held the Lucasian Chair, a professorship of mathematics once held by Sir Issac Newton, Charles Babbage and P. A. M. Dirac, among only fourteen others since the chair was deeded in 1663. Meeting in person, someone in this esteemed professorship would be sobering, indeed.

Cosmology and philosophy have always been favorites of mine. Some time ago, I had a moment of clarity where many things align, fall into place and one can see farther than before. An understanding of the Universe came that was different and I knew that the only person to discuss this with was Stephen Hawking. It would surely be an interesting conversation. But how? Suddenly, I was presented with the possibility that my time had come. The stars had aligned and we were creating the Cosmos Award for him.

Stephen Hawking Visits His Birthday Exhibit

One cannot plan something like this. It does, however, come under the heading of: "Be careful what you wish for."

The presentation was to be in Pasadena and we would take time to drive there to attend the ceremony. Best to deliver the delicate Saturn than to needlessly risk damage during shipping, when we're not all that far away. It's been a long time between road trips, anyway, and getting out would do us good.

Alas, it was not to be. Just prior to the date, another surprise came; this one not so good. His doctors deemed travel was not advisable, so the ceremony was cancelled. The presentation would be in England instead. A Planetary Society contingent traveled there but we were not among them. We consulted on the crating specifications in which to ship the award to England, to ensure that it would not be damaged and, indeed, it did arrive safely; we just weren't accompanying it. That was the extent of our involvement in making the presentation a success and we are both very happy to have made this small contribution.

Still, it is a sobering thought to step back and realize how fortunate we are to have one of our children in his office where he can experience it each day and then to have it chosen to be in this wonderful exhibit, so that many may see it, too. The exhibit runs until April 9 if you happen to be in the area.

I wish that we could travel there to see it. A side trip to Cambridge would be in my mind constantly.

Events like these are what keeps a creator going. You work along in obscurity and then, Boom!, the light shines brightly but ever so briefly. Sobering to realize that the things we create will be here long after we are gone; cared for by people whom we will never meet. At least they will know that we were here and perhaps wonder about us, as we wonder now about them.

Mysterious, life is.

For further reading:

Seriously Cool Dept: Our Cosmos Award sculpture in the series, between the Singularity Paper & Stephen in his office. Click the image to get a high-rez view that you can pan around on. It's so big, it'll appear to be just blank but that's only the upper left corner. Scroll down and right a ways. We nearly fell off our chairs but I bet many folks miss this.

Joy and I both wish to convey our thanks and appreciation to the wonderful people at The Planetary Society for including us in their adventure.

Have you had a brush with greatness? Please let us know your thoughts by sharing in a comment.

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