© Friedhoffer, 1999
The American Physical Society invited me to be a presenter at the APS
Centennial meeting in Atlanta, GA 3/21-3/26. It has been claimed that this was the largest
meeting of physicists ever held. Over
8,500 by official count. Stephen Hawking was the guest of honor.
I would be performing my Magic Tricks-Science Facts
show at public outreach programs in and around Atlanta
for the week. Venues included junior and senior high schools, public auditoriums, and
the APS kickoff gala at the Fernbank Science museum.
The evening of the gala started with a
cocktail at Sci-Trek museum. Lots of people milling around waiting to meet
the guest of honor, the venerated, mythical Stephen Hawking. He glided into the room on his wheelchair and
the room grew silent. Just being in the same room with him had us all in
went up and started to talk to him, He
responded with his voice synthesized
Then lot of folks started taking
pictures of him, Not knowing the protocol
I stayed on the periphery and took some
photos. Getting braver I had Nikki (my daughter) and her friend
Shondra, stand beside him and snapped
some pictures of the three of them.
After getting up the nerve to walk
over to him I asked Dr. Hawking if he liked magic.
Fortunately for me, his response was - "I love magic." My response. "Would you care to see some tricks?" He said, "Yes!" I
did some not so standards sleight of hand. Ultimately a full
deck vanished from my hands and then appeared from my mouth. Hawking laughed heartily at the unexpected end.
The press photographers went crazy
taking many photos of me, Bob Friedhoffer, formerly
from the Bronx,
entertaining the man who might arguably be the most influential
scientist of the 20th century's latter half. He is without doubt the Michael Jordan, or Bruce Springsteen of
I eventually gave up my spot to
someone else, and talked to
some of the other guests at the party. Finally
we all went to the civic center to hear Hawking give his presentation. On the way over to the hall I picked up a
program and was blown away. On the
inside of the flier was the info about Dr, Hawking. On the
outside rear cover was listed a bunch of other events, including my performance. I couldn't believe it. My name on the same hand bill as the eminent
The talk was entitled, the
"Universe in a Nutshell". His explanations
(aided by some visuals) was exhilarating,
educational and extremely understandable.
Not only did he make the cosmic science understandable, he made it
enjoyable, eliciting many laughs throughout the
Afterwards there was a small
kaffe klatch for invited guests, including Nikki, Shondra and
myself. It was eerie, The guests all stood around and yakked and
then Stephen Hawking entered and
the room became deathly quiet. A gentleman
from AIP (American Institute of Physics)
gave him an award and then people started asking questions,
you think that by using black holes we can do time travel?'
SH - "Yes but
only into the future."
Questioner - "I
mean ways, forward and back."
SH - "I've never met anyone from the
The atmosphere was a little stiff when I approached and said
I'd like to
show him some more magic. Fortunately for me, he grinned and indicated yes.
I selected tricks that were all
visual and needed no input from a
spectator. We (Hawking and I) were the center of attention though admittedly he didn;pt need me for that. The final trick I performed was a visual card
penetration whereby one card visibly
another in a simulation of quantum tunneling.
He smiled broadly and
typed "That's why I'm not an experimental
physicist. You can
never believe the evidence." I asked him if he
liked magic and performed it as a child. "I stopped believing in magic when I was
6 years old." "My hands were never
good enough to do magic."
RF - "Well just
think, of you had been good at magic you
would now be performing in music
halls, instead of doing physics."
SH - "If I had,
then there would be no music left in the hall."
He eventually turned and
approached Nikki and her friend Shondra. Nikki
was a little nervous and didn't know what to say. Finally she came up with,
"Hi Dr. Hawking. Your speech
was wonderful. You actually allowed me
to understand a little
bit of what you do. By the way my father is Bob, the magician you just
SH - "Your dad
Nikki - "I know, but I can't let him know
that I think so."
SH - "My
daughter does the same thing." (with a big grin)
Nikki posed with him for
photo. Next I asked Shondra to get next to him.
Then closer still. Dr.
Hawking still had a huge grin on his face. I said, "Don't
make any moves on her, she's a friend of my daughter." With his grin
growing ever wider he replied, "I'm not wearing my official
badge that says,
"Flirt harder, I'm a physicist."