Stephen Hawking Opens Universe's Doors on PBS

Article excerpt

British mathematician Stephen Hawking, whose book A Brief

History of Time sold more than 7 million copies, is set to

mind-meld with a national TV audience.

And it promises to be a far-headier experience than time spent

aboard the Starship Enterprise with Capt. James T. Kirk and Mr.

Spock.

Stephen Hawking's Universe, which begins a six-episode run on

PBS this week (9 p.m. Mondays), is an intellectual version of

Contact, this summer's blockbuster film about the first contact

between Earth and an alien civilization. Much more science than

pop culture, the PBS series is Hawking's views of time and the

cosmos.

Appearing via videotape to TV critics this summer, Hawking said

he wrote A Brief History of Time because of his fascination with

how the universe works. Surprised by its pop star success, the

scientist said he is eager to reach an even-wider audience on

TV.

Stephen Hawking's Universe, which is co-produced by the BBC,

will bring people to the frontier of physics, which is expanding

at an ever-increasing rate, he said.

"There is a public hunger for science, as shown by the interest

in the Mars landing and the Hubble space telescope pictures," he

said. "I hope this series will help to satisfy this demand. I

certainly enjoyed working on it."

Here's a preview of the six episodes of Stephen Hawking's

Universe :

Tomorrow's first installment, Seeing is Believing, addresses

questions about the universe: Where did the universe come from?

Why is it the way it is? The episode traces the evolution of

ideas on those subjects from astronomer Ptolemy through Galileo

and Newton to Hubble and his telescope.

Today, we know that the universe is expanding, born in an

explosion of inconceivable magnitude.

Part 2's subject is the so-called big bang theory, the theory

that the universe originated in an explosion billions of years

ago and has been expanding ever since, and evidence that

supports the theory.

Cosmic Alchemy, Part 3, explores the question of where matter

came from.

The fourth episode, On the Dark Side, looks at the mysterious

"dark matter" that makes up most of the universe.

The next episode, Black Holes and Beyond, is of particular

interest to Hawking, since he gained prominence with his

descriptions of black holes or collapsed stars.

The series concludes with An Answer to Everything. While more

questions have been answered in the past 100 years than all

previous centuries combined, the one giant one remains: How did

the big bang begin? The big bang theory, concludes scientists,

should apply to the universe as a whole.

To illustrate such complexities as the big bang, black holes

and wormholes, the production utilizes stunning special effects.

Even so, some viewers may find it tough going.

Helping them along are scientists able to speak clearly about

such dense topics as theoretical physics.

One of Hawking's colleagues, Michio Kaku, is a pioneer in the

string theory that is a leading candidate for the so-called

"theory of everything. …

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