TIME movies

How Stephen Hawking Went Hollywood

A theory of love: Eddie Redmayne, as a young Hawking, meets the future Mrs. Hawking
A theory of love: Eddie Redmayne, as a young Hawking, meets the future Mrs. Hawking

James Marsh, director of the poignant Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, talks about making a movie with—and about—a living legend

It’s a very good thing director James Marsh isn’t a defeatist. If he were, he would curse the Hollywood calendar that has his compelling biopic of Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything, opening in the same week as Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Interstellar. Ordinarily, an arena-scale spectacle like Interstellar and a bit of cinematic chamber music like Theory wouldn’t have a lot to fear from each other, since their audiences would be decidedly different. But that’s not so this time.

Both movies, in their own ways, wrestle with the same head-spinning questions: the mysteries of the universe and the physics of, well, pretty much everything there is. And both, in their own ways, succeed splendidly. Nolan had the far heavier lift when it came to the sheer scale of the production he was undertaking. But Marsh had the tougher go when it came to making sure his audiences sat still for the tale he wanted to tell, since he didn’t have eye-popping special effects and a thumping score to make the science go down easier. But he plays to that minimalism as a strength, keeping things small, intimate and sometimes brilliantly metaphorical.

On occasion, the facts of Hawking’s own life supplied those metaphors. Even as the great physicist was descending into the black hole of an illness that would render him both immobile and mute, he discovered the phenomenon now known as Hawking radiation, a form of energy that allows information to escape from the gravitational grip of a black hole—a grip so great that it swallows even light. Hawking has spent most of his life finding his own way to get information and ideas out to the world.

And when did the young Hawking have the flash of insight that the eponymous radiation exists? While struggling to free himself from a tangled pajama top that his weakened muscles could no longer negotiate. When life throws a good director a fat, over-the-plate pitch like that, the good director hits it out of the park—and Marsh excels in that moment, as he does with the film as a whole.

Taking a break from both promoting Theory and directing a new project for HBO, Marsh spoke to TIME about getting to know Hawking, working to understand his physics, and turning what could have been a mawkish tale of sickness and survival into a movie that is equal parts drama, wit, love story and ingenious science lesson.

How difficult was it to weave hard cosmological science into a personal story about a man, his marriage and his illness?

I think of myself as a member of the general audience who comes to the movie not overly familiar with cosmology. I pitched the science at a level that I think I would understand, so audiences will too. The movie is really a story of the heart, about two people [Hawking and his wife Jane], and we give them equal screen time. There was a very interesting tension between Hawking’s scientific career on the one hand and his marriage and health on the other. They move in opposite directions, with one soaring as the other is declining. A drama wouldn’t ordinarily be the best way of exploring complex ideas like Hawking radiation, but that balance, that tension made it possible.

Cosmology is that rare science that almost no one understands but almost everyone finds fascinating. Why do you think that’s so?

These are the biggest questions imaginable. Stephen’s work is dealing with the nature of time and the boundaries of the universe. He approaches them through the lens of physics, but what he’s engaging with are the deepest mysteries we can contemplate.

How involved was Hawking in the production?

[Screenwriter] Anthony McCarten spent many years working on a screenplay and talking to Jane Hawking, whose memoir is the source of the movie. We then went to Stephen and he read the script. He wasn’t wildly enthusiastic with the idea but he agreed to cooperate. He offered us some items from his personal collection, including the medal that [his character is seen] wearing at the end of the movie. At each step of the production we involved him, consulted with him. We had a physicist—a former student of his—on the set at all times to make sure all of the equations looked right.

Did Hawking himself ever visit?

During the May Ball shoot [a scene at an outdoor dance], he came to the set with his handlers and other assistants. He was very impressed by the scale of everything, but it raised the stakes a lot when he was there, especially because it was on the same night Jane showed up. Earlier, Jane took us to the house where they lived when they were first married. She showed us the spot where Stephen was saying “I have an idea” when he was struggling with his pajamas and came up with Hawking radiation. Scientists are like filmmakers: they have the oddest ideas at the oddest times.

Did you give Hawking any kind of final approval of the film before it was released?

When it was cut but not finalized, we took the film and showed it to him as a mark of respect. Had he not liked it we would have failed, so that was very nerve-wracking. It seemed to us that he had an emotional reaction while he was watching the movie. His response afterwards was very generous. He said the movie felt ‘broadly true,’ and then he sent the company an e-mail saying that when he watched Eddie [Redmayne, who plays Hawking] perform, it was like watching himself. He also offered us the use of the real electronic voice he uses to communicate to replace the one we were using. It has a weird emotional spectrum and it made the movie better. It felt like an endorsement.

TIME space

Watch 3D Videos of the International Space Station

Nasa is using more 3D video

Astronauts at the International Space Station have created a 3D video that shows a GoPro inside of a bubble floating in the space station.

Three astronauts–Steve Swanson, Reid Wiseman and Alexander Gerst–are seen studying water surface tension in microgravity. The first video below is of their bubble experiment, and the second video was shot by astronaut Don Pettit in 2012, also in 3D.

Nasa is using more 3D video to capture what their astronauts are seeing and experiencing in space.

TIME Environment

4 Ways the New Top Environment Senator Disagrees With Science

Jim Inhofe
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. gives a victory speech at the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City on Nov. 4, 2014. Sue Ogrocki—AP

Meet Jim Inhofe

Sen. Jim Inhofe is widely expected to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee now that Republicans have won control of the Senate, putting one of Washington’s most strident climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy.

In his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, the Oklahoma Republican argued that climate change science has been manufactured by liberals to scare the American public, push through anti-business regulations and sell newspapers, and that humans should do nothing to regulate greenhouse gases.

Problem is, Inhofe’s opinions are deeply at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, both in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s just a few ways how.

Human activity

Inhofe: The Senator says hundreds of scientists dispute the idea that global warming is the result of human activity.

Science: 97% of international scientists working in fields related to the environmental sciences agree that current global warming trends are the result of human activity. No U.S. or international scientific institutions of any caliber dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change.

Consequences

Inhofe: He says global warming, if it’s happening at all, could be beneficial for humanity. “Thus far, no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global temperatures would lead to the catastrophes predicted by alarmists,” he said in a 2003 speech. “In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.”

Science: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found unequivocally that climate change will have a catastrophically negative effect on humans. In its fifth report, released Sunday, the panel compiled and analyzed hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change from all over the world and found that the consequences of inaction will lead, and already are leading, to flooding, diminished crop yields, destructive weather, and mass extinction.

Cycles

Inhofe: If global temperatures appear to be warming, that’s just because “[w]e go through these 30-year cycles,” he said on Mike Huckabee’s radio show in 2013.

Science: Dozens of peer-reviewed international studies, including the 2012 State of the Climate peer-reviewed report by the American Meteorological Society (AMS)—which was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries—underscored that current warming trends are happening much more rapidly than any natural warming process, and that it is unquestionably the result of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, released by humans burning fossil fuels.

History

Inhofe: Scientists can’t explain why, eight years ago, “we went into a leveling-out period” in which the earth did not continue to warm.

Science: No such “leveling out” occurred. While individual temperatures spike and plummet every year, climate change science asks a longer-term question: Is the earth warmer than it was fifty years ago? The answer is, again, unequivocally yes. Sea ice has reached a record low, the Arctic has continued to warm, sea temperatures have continued to increase, ocean heat has reached near record-levels and sea levels have reached an all-time high.

TIME animals

Male Hummingbirds Apparently Use Beaks to Stab Each Other in the Throat

New research shows their long, sharp beaks aren't just for reaching flower nectar

The long, sharp beaks of hummingbirds serve a purpose other than probing flowers for nectar, a new study found.

Male long-billed hermits, which are large hummingbirds native to Central and South America, use their beaks to stab each other in the throat in territorial disputes, according to a study published recently in Behavioral Ecology. The male-against-male battles are part of a type of mating ritual called ‘lekking,’ which occurs in order to have space to mate with females.

“Once a female is in a territory, the male will court her with elaborate displays and songs. So in these species the males are constantly fighting to maintain the best territories,” Alejandro Rico-Guevara, the report’s co-author, said in a press release. “We show here the first evidence that bills are also being shaped by sexual selection through male-male combat.”

The findings suggest an alternative to the accepted theory that hummingbird beaks evolved to be so long and sharp because it helped them access flower nectar, according to the report. Instead, scientists believe that the reverse may be true: that flowers evolved in response to sharper, thinner hummingbird beaks.

TIME

Explaining Your Thesis Topic the Hard Way

You’ll probably never have occasion to explain how tornadoes might disrupt the biological relationships between tree seedlings and soil organisms. But if you do, you almost certainly won’t do it by swinging from a trapeze as friends and acquaintances writhe around on the floor below.

But then, you’re not Uma Nagendra, a doctoral candidate in plant biology at the University of Georgia. By choreographing and performing a piece called “Plant-soil feedbacks after severe tornado damage,” Nagendra has just snagged first place in the seventh annual international Dance your Ph.D. contest, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science magazine and HighWire Press.

The curmudgeons among us might be tempted to smirk—especially when they find out one of the runners-up was honored for his interpretive dance titled “Reduced-fat mayonnaise: Can’t maintain its stability.”

A conversation with Nagendra, however, will nip that impulse in the bud. “Lots of people are looking for ways to communicate science better, since we haven’t done so well in the past,” she says. “For me, the value of incorporating dance into science communication is that it can help illustrate complex ideas.” For anyone who relies on photos, graphics or illustrations to help us understand scientific concepts—which is to say, just about everyone—this should make all sorts of sense.

Nagendra, first heard about the contest a few years ago. She has no formal training in dance (“I dabble in different social dance forms,” she says, which means she likes go dancing for fun) but she knew immediately that she wanted to enter someday. She had some friends who were exploring trapeze as a kind dance medium—think Cirque du Soleil—and when she began taking trapeze classes herself, she was hooked. “The choreography took a while,” Nagendra says. “I had to do it in bits and pieces, since I couldn’t exactly practice in my living room.”

The other trapeze performers who appear in the piece are from the class, but most of the people playing soil pathogens on the ground are “grad students or friends of friends who thought it would be fun to roll around on the floor and pretend to be a fungus.” (She recruited some of them on Facebook, with a post that urged interested parties to, “unleash your inner nematode.”)

For winning the contest, Nagendra will get a $1000 prize and an all-expenses-paid trip to Stanford University next may for a screening of all the winning entries (you can read about all 12 finalists here, and read the official announcement at the Science website).

TIME space

SpaceShipTwo Rocket Plane Debris Spread Over 35 Miles, Says NTSB

SpaceShipTwo NTSB
Acting NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart uses a model to demonstrate how the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was supposed to "feather" its wings during an interview with the a video crew, Nov. 3, 2014. NTSB

Lightweight debris from last week’s in-flight breakup of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane has been found as far away as 30 to 35 miles from the main crash site, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday night.

The dispersal of debris testifies to the thoroughness of the plane’s disintegration, after an anomaly that occurred on Friday during a flight test high above California’s Mojave Desert. SpaceShipTwo’s wing-feathering system — a mechanism that’s designed to slow the craft down during its descent — has emerged as a focus of the NTSB’s investigation.

Experts on human performance have been added to…

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME space travel

Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson Says the Risk of Space Tourism ‘Is Worth It’

And he's confirmed that he will be the first passenger on Virgin Galactic’s maiden flight

Despite the crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during a test flight Friday, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury, the company’s founder Richard Branson says, “the risk is worth it.”

“Mike would have been the first to say that,” Branson told CNN Monday. “Test pilots would say that because they know the risk they’re taking, they know the importance of what they’re doing, we know the importance of what we’re doing.”

And the British entrepreneur confirmed that he would still be the first passenger on Virgin Galactic’s maiden space tourism flight.

“There is no way I would ask others to go on a Virgin Galactic flight if I didn’t feel it was safe enough for myself,” he said.

A spot on the flight will cost $250,000, and 800 passengers have already signed up to join Branson in becoming the world’s first space tourists. Branson said two more people signed up Friday to support the program after the fatal crash.

[CNN]

TIME Environment

Scientists Get a Little More Creative to Study Penguins Up-Close

Antarctica, Antarctic Peninsula, Paulet Island, Adelie
Penguins jump into the water on Paulet Island in Antarctica. Wolfgang Kaehler—LightRocket/Getty Images

They made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins

Scientists may have discovered a way to study animals without disturbing their natural behavior, according to a new study, and it involves dressing up.

Observing animals without disturbing their state of being has long been an issue, the researchers wrote in Nature Methods. So, in an effort to fix that, an international team of scientists made four-wheel rovers look like baby emperor penguins and drove them over to colonies of the animals to gauge their reactions and collect data.

The scientists implanted microchips in about 34 king penguins to monitor the animals’ heart rates when they were approached by the rovers, according to CNET. Turns out, they were slightly less stressed (and notably for shorter periods of time) when approached by the rovers than when near humans. The animals were so comfortable around the robotic penguin that adult ones sang to it and the babies huddled around it as if it were their own.

TIME space

Virgin Galactic Crash Investigation Could Take a Year

Law enforcement officers take a closer look at the wreckage near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. on Nov 1, 2014.
Law enforcement officers take a closer look at the wreckage near the site where a Virgin Galactic space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, exploded and crashed in Mojave, Calif. on Nov 1, 2014. Ringo H.W. Chiu—AP

But Virgin Galactic has another spacecraft 65% ready

The investigation into the Virgin Galactic spacecraft that crashed and killed one person during a test flight in California on Friday could take a year, a leading U.S. safety official said.

Christopher Hart, the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said late Saturday Virgin Galactic could still conduct test flights during the investigation of the SpaceShipTwo crash, which also injured one other person, the BBC reports.

A second spacecraft that has been under construction for the past three years is 65% complete, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides told the Financial Times. The spacecraft could be ready for flight next year, after the company finds out how SpaceShipTwo’s crash came about.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said that he is “determined to find out what went wrong” with the crash. Hart said the debris from the crash was spread over an area of file miles in the Mojave desert.

The surviving pilot, 43-year-old Peter Siebold, is “alert and talking with his family and doctors,” according to Scaled Composites, the aerospace company for which both pilots worked. Investigators will interview him about the crash when his doctors give the green light.

[BBC]

TIME Environment

U.N.: Phase Out Fossil Fuels By 2100 Or Face ‘Irreversible’ Climate Impact

Aerial view of a power station
Jason Hawkes—Getty Images

"Science has spoken," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said

Greenhouse gas emissions may have to cease by the end of the century to keep global temperatures from reaching levels many scientists consider dangerous, the United Nations’ latest climate assessment suggests.

“Science has spoken,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Copenhagen at Sunday’s launch of the fourth and final report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), CBS News reports. “There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

The IPCC assessment, which incorporated the findings of three other reports over the past 13 months, reaffirms with 95% certainty that global climate change is both real and a mostly man-made problem — a conclusion it shared in an earlier report. The entire project, which reviewed approximately 30,000 studies about climate, also suggests that if greenhouse gas emissions continue without intervention, there could be “irreversible” impacts, such as rising sea levels, more frequent heat waves and even a change in the human population’s male-female ratio.

To halt climate change, countries around the world will have to wean themselves off fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases when burned, in favor of more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy sources, the IPCC report concluded. Last month, leaders of 28 European nations agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2030.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC. “All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

Meteorologists already reported last month that 2014 could be the hottest year on record. If climate change continues, billions of dollars in seaside property could be destroyed, while some states could see crop yields drop by as much as 70%. Climate change could also likely cause a rise in various infectious diseases, world hunger, respiratory problems and heat-related illnesses, such as cardiac arrest and heat stroke.

The report’s findings contrast with the American public perception of climate change. Only 54 percent of people in the U.S. this summer reported that they believe current climate change is caused by human activity. In September, however, thousands of people took to the streets of New York City to put pressure on world leaders during the People’s Climate March, one of the largest environmental events ever.

In a statement about the latest report, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Those who choose to ignore or dispute the science so clearly laid out in this report do so at a great risk for all of us and for our kids and grandkids.”

[CBS]

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