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Stephen Hawking dies, world loses its brightest star

Hawking is survived by three children -- Robert, Lucy and Timothy -- from his first marriage to Jane Wilde, and three grandchildren

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Scientist Stephen Hawking giving his views on the danger of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Scientist Stephen Hawking giving his views on the danger of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
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  • Stephen Hawking passed away on 14th March 2018
  • He was one of the greatest brains in the world
  • He shall always be remembered for his contributions and research

Renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, who shaped modern cosmology and inspired millions despite suffering from a life-threatening condition, died on Wednesday — leaving millions in mourning globally. He was 76. His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday confirming his death at his home in Cambridge.

The world mournes Stephen Hawking's death.
The world mournes Stephen Hawking’s death.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” Hawking’s children said in a statement.

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever,” the statement added.

Hawking is survived by three children — Robert, Lucy and Timothy — from his first marriage to Jane Wilde, and three grandchildren. The physicist was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England.

Known the world over for his acclaimed book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes”, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a progressive neuro-degenerative disease — in 1963 at age 21, The Guardian newspaper said. Hawking’s doctors gave him nearly two years to live but he defied medical history and survived for decades.

Also Read: Hawking treated Artificial Intelligence as threat to humanity

For the rest of his life, the physicist used a wheelchair to move around and a speech synthesizer that allowed him to speak in a computerised voice with an American accent. For Hawking, the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of purpose.

“Although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before. I began to make progress with my research,” he once said, the paper reported.

Prof. Stephen Hawking provided theories to  solve mysteries of the World. Wikimedia commons
Prof. Stephen Hawking provided theories to solve mysteries of the World. Wikimedia commons

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all,” Hawking added. With fellow physicist Roger Penrose, Hawking merged Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum theory, suggesting that space and time began with the Big Bang and end in black holes. In 1974, Hawking proposed what is known as his most significant theory that black holes can emit sub-atomic particles.

Published for the first time in 1988, “A Brief History of Time” stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unprecedented 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 different languages. Hailed as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein, Hawking never won a Nobel Prize.

In India, President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Science Minister Harsh Vardhan condoled the demise of Hawking.

“Sad to hear of the passing of scientist Stephen Hawking. His brilliant mind made our world and our universe a less mysterious place. And his courage and resilience will remain an inspiration for generations,” Kovind said in a tweet.

Modi also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Hawking and said: “Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic”. It was January 2001 when Hawking came to India for the first time, later describing the 16-day long tour as “magnificent”.

In the first leg of the tour in Mumbai, Hawking addressed an international physics seminar at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). The physicist also celebrated his 59th birthday at the Oberoi Towers hotel where he stayed.

In New Delhi, Hawking met then President K.R. Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan who later described the 45-minute meeting with the British physicist as “an unforgettable experience”.

The US space agency NASA tweeted: “Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014”.

“We lost a great one today. Stephen Hawking will be remembered for his incredible contributions to science — making complex theories and concepts more accessible to the masses,” tweeted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Also Read: Tech giants mourn Hawking’s death

Astrophysicist Dr Karan Jani, who works for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), wrote: “The courage for a career in astrophysics happened due to Brief History of Time – a used copy that I got from a street vendor in my small town of [India] 12 yrs ago.”

“A loss for all humanity. RIP Stephen Hawking,” tweeted American astronaut Scott Kelly. The physicist’s inspiring story gave birth to the 2014 movie “The Theory of Everything,” which was based on a memoir by Hawking’s first wife Wilde. Actor Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking in the film won him an Oscar for Best Actor.

He was one of the greatest and most influential personalities in the world.
He was one of the greatest and most influential personalities in the world.

From Hollywood to Bollywood, condolences poured in for Hawking. While actor Eddie Redmayne remembered him as a “ladies man”, the official Twitter account of “The Big Bang Theory”, a TV series that witnessed appearances of the famed professor, also remembered him.

“RIP Stephen Hawking. A major loss to the scientific community and to the millions he inspired through his work and life. Condolences to the family,” tweeted actor-producer Farhan Akhtar. Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty said: “Remember to look up at the stars not down at your feet”! A sad day for all of us”. IANS

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Electric Fields Used By Spiders To Take Flight: Research

Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk.

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A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne.
A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne. VOA

Since the 1800s, scientists have marveled at how spiders can take flight using their webbing. Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk. He thought the arachnids might be using heat-generated updrafts to take to the sky, but new research shows a totally different cause may be at play.

Erica Morley and Daniel Robert from the University of Bristol in England were interested in exploring a second explanation for the spiders’ ability. They thought spiders might sense and use electrostatic fields in the air.

“There have been several studies looking at how air movement and wind can get spiders airborne, but the electrostatic hypothesis was never tested,” Morley told VOA.

Some observers suggested electrostatic fields might be the reason the multiple draglines some spiders use to float don’t get tangled with each other. Biologist Kimberley Sheldon from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who was not involved in the new research, pointed out that “though these spiders will have five or six draglines, those strands of silk do not get entangled. So we’ve known for a while that electrostatics probably [are] at least interacting with the spider, with the silk lines themselves, to keep them from getting tangled.”

Morley and Robert created a box with a grounded metal plate on the bottom and a plate on the top that they could pass an electrical current through. The scientists placed spiders in the box and turned on the voltage, watching as the creatures reacted to the electric field.

Reaction to current

When the electric field was on, the spiders lifted their abdomens into the air and started tiptoeing by raising up on the very ends of their legs. Morley told VOA that spiders only tiptoe right before they release silk draglines to fly away, in a process called ballooning.

And when the spiders did balloon and rise into the air, turning off the electric current caused them to drop.

Sheldon compared it to taking a balloon and rubbing it against your clothing. “If you hold the balloon [near your head], your hair stands on end. That’s kind of what’s happening with the spider silk.”

Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research
Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research. Pixabay

Clearly the spiders were able to sense the local electrostatic field and respond appropriately by releasing silk, but Morley and Robert wanted to know how.

“As a sensory biologist, I was keen to understand what sensory system they might use to detect electric fields,” said Morley. “We know that they have very sensitive hairs that are displaced by air movements or even sound. So I thought that it’s possible that they might be using these same hairs to detect electric fields.”

This was exactly what she observed. The small hairs along the spiders’ legs react not only to physical experiences like a breeze but also to the electric field. In nature, it makes sense for spiders to sense both the electrostatic field around them as well as wind conditions. Spiders probably use both when taking off and navigating the skies.

Mathematician Longhua Zhao from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has made computer models of how spiders balloon. She told VOA, “I think that both the electrical field and the fluid mechanics [of air flow] are important. They definitely play very important roles. However, we don’t know at this point which is the dominant factor.”

Also read: Did You Hear about the New Species of Spiders Named After Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders and Barrack Obama?

Lead researcher Morley pointed out that spiders aren’t the only invertebrates to balloon. “Caterpillars and spider mites, which are arachnids but not spiders, balloon as well.” Morley hopes to see others follow up her research to see if these other animals respond in a way similar to the spiders. (VOA)