Bring on the 300 Millimeter Silicon Wafer at Stephen Hawking’s 71st Birthday Celebration

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Stephen Hawking was recently presented with a commemorative “Happy Birthday” 300-millimeter silicon wafer by Martin Curley, vice president of Intel Labs Europe.

Professor Stephen Hawking showed no signs that his hunger for computer performance has slowed during his 71st birthday celebration this past week at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in Cambridge, England. Hawking was honored with a unique silicon wafer etched with nanoscale letters.

Since his 20s, Hawking has battled a motor neuron disease related to Lou Gehrig’s disease). Over the years the disease has forced him to rely on special computer technology to help him speak. In recent years his speaking rate has slowed to one word per minute.

Martin Curley, vice president of Intel Labs Europe, was present at the birthday ceremony. He said that Hawking “looked forward to the new technology being developed by Intel Labs, which he said would help him communicate much faster.”

Curley presented Hawking with the commemorative 300-millimeter silicon wafer that read “Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking” 100 times in letters 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The letters were etched on the wafer at Intel’s Fab D1C in Hillsboro, Ore. employing the same 32-nanometer technology used for Intel smartphone chips.

Curley said the idea for the gift came after Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner kicked off the State of the Universe Symposium in 2012 on Hawking’s 70th birthday. Rattner, who traces the origins of the Intel-Hawking relationship back to January 1992, asked Intel employees for gift ideas, and the one-of-a-kind personalized wafer topped the list of 100 suggestions.

“When Hawking received it, he was pleased, honored and interested in how it was made,” said Curley.
Hawking said there are a lot of plaques in the halls of his research facility, but this one is going straight to his office, according to David Fleming, manager of the Intel Innovation Open Lab in Ireland. “He also joked that his initials already appear in massive galactic graffiti visible in the afterglow of the Big Bang, referencing a NASA image from 2010, but now his name exists in the smallest of dimensions,” said Fleming.

Cosmos Research Powered by Supercomputer

Hawking told the crowd that the supercomputer is 100 times more powerful than what he had installed just 3 years ago, said Fleming, who pointed out that Hawking and his team worked on the discovery of two black holes colliding, tracking the amount and movement of energy generated from the crash.

The COSMOS Mk IX supercomputer built by SGI is powered by 1,856 Intel Xeon E5 processor cores and 31 Intel Xeon Phi co-processors with theoretical performance reaching approximately 75 TFLOPS.

“The supercomputer will help Hawking analyze more quickly big data captured by the European Space Agency’s Planck Space Observatory, which is exploring around 300 galaxies,” said Fleming.

Curley noted that results from Hawking’s research will be shared in April at a space agency symposium in the Netherlands and in September at the COSMO 2013 International Conference on Particle Physics and Cosmology in Cambridge.

At the birthday celebration, Hawking remarked in reference to the supercomputer to not forget to “add the two cores from my wheelchair.”
Photo by Intel Free Press

Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.

Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
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