“Indians are so good at math and physics”: When Stephen Hawking came to India


In January 2001, the pioneering British physicist Stephen Hawking, who died today (March 14) at the age of 76, visited India.

One of the three scientists to be awarded the first Sarojini Damodaran Fellowship by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, Hawking had been invited to attend the Strings 2001 conference on string theory. This event brought together 300 researchers from around the world to discuss the origin of the universe, among other things.

At Strings 2001, Hawking delivered several lectures, including one titled “The Universe in a Nutshell,” in which he traced the developments in cosmology through the years and even made his own predictions about the fate of the universe. The website for this event is still live, and you can even listen to an audio recording and go through the slides of Hawking’s lecture on “Ads/CFT and Cosmology.”

Hawking, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS, when he was just 21, reportedly travelled around Mumbai in a specially redesigned vehicle from Mahindra Mahindra that could accommodate his wheelchair. He also celebrated his 59th birthday on Jan. 08, 2001, at the Oberoi Towers hotel where he stayed.

Later, in the national capital, he met the then president KR Narayanan at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and remarked that the country had changed dramatically since his last trip over 40 years ago in 1959. An article in The Hindu newspaper from the time says Hawking was reportedly impressed by the mathematical skills that seemed to be a “national characteristic” in India, telling the president that “Indians are so good at mathematics and physics.”

He also delivered the Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture in the city on Jan. 15, 2001. His talk was titled “Predicting the Future: from Astrology to Black Holes.”

Here are some photos of the late scientist’s time in India:

Stephen Hawking looks, on his screen, at an animated clipping of himself with cartoon characters from popular television serial ‘The Simpsons’, while addressing a public lecture on ‘Science in the future’, in Mumbai on Jan. 14, 2001. (AP Photo/Sherwin Crasto)
British physicist Stephen Hawking (R), accompanied by his guide Prem Das, goes on a sight seeing tou..
Hawking, accompanied by his guide Prem Das, goes on a sight-seeing tour in New Delhi on Jan. 15, 2001. (Reuters/Kamal Kishore)
Hawking at the Jantar Mantar observatory in New Delhi. (AP Photo/John McConnico)
Hawking at the Qutb Minar, New Delhi, on Jan. 16, 2001. (Reuters/Kamal Kishore)