“It's in a professional capacity,” Samantha Kuula said. “There is a natural relationship between Dr. Hawking's research and our research here. He is a particle physicist, and he focuses on the evolution of the universe as governed by general relativity.
"He studies black holes, and it's kind of along the same lines as the research being done at the SNOLAB program. We look at the same big questions about dark matter and what physics exist beyond the standard model.”
Hawking is in Ontario at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, according to a Waterloo newspaper. He will be coming to Sudbury this weekend, although the exact date and time isn't being released.
“We know there would be a huge interest in Stephen Hawking here in Sudbury with the universities and the science centre, but this is really a professional courtesy,” Kuula said. “If he comes back to Perimeter Institute, we'd love to plan something a little more public, but with such a tight time schedule, it just wasn't feasible this time.”
It was Hawking who made the request about three weeks ago to visit the facility, she said.
SNOLAB is an underground science laboratory specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics. Situated two kilometres below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine, SNOLAB is an expansion of the existing facilities constructed for the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) solar neutrino experiment.
“(Dr. Hawking) has a very busy schedule, as you can imagine, and he's only flying in for the tour and then flying right back out. It'll be a couple of hours, where he'll be able to interact with our SNOLAB science team. That's why there isn't a big announcement; we wanted to ensure it stayed science-focused.”
Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease when he was 21, leaving him almost entirely paralyzed. He communicates using an electronic voice synthesizer.
Many scientists from around the world visit SNOLAB, Kuula said, but Hawking “has a great pop-culture fan base following him, so he is one of the more well-known particle physicists, and he just happens to be a particle physicist that is working on the same questions that our particle physicists are working on. We are very excited as staff members, and our particle physicists are happy to be sharing their research with him.”
What was intended to be a low-key visit just goes to reiterate the fact “SNOLAB is a renowned research facility that is attracting even the likes of Stephen Hawking, and we hope people recognize that and take pride in what they have here,” she added.
“If we can get the word out and inspire people who might be disabled, because Dr. Hawking has come a long way and has overcome a lot of obstacles, to not just go into physics, but to persevere, it's a boon for SNOLAB, and we're excited to be able to do so.”