Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and author renowned for his theories about black holes and other aspects of the universe, is set to begin an affiliation with Texas A&M University, due to a major endowment funded by George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell of The Woodlands, Texas.

Hawking is expected to visit Texas A&M next spring to participate in the inaugural meeting of the George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics, which will bring several of the world's top physicists to the campus for a month-long exploration of the latest ideas on topics ranging from superstrings to M-theory to supergravity.

The concept of the Mitchell Institute was approved at the recent Texas A&M University System Board of Regents meeting held in College Station. Organizers envision an annual endowed series, with the debut institute set for Feb. 24-March 21, 2003.

"Our physics faculty in the area of strings and M-theory is already in the top 10 in the world for citations of their work," explains Edward Fry, professor and head of Texas A&M's Department of Physics.

"This institute will provide a major boost to their international recognition and promote the collaboration of some of the major scientists in the world. The results can be expected to provide insights into the cosmology of the universe and the ultimate unification of the fields of nature."

Mitchell, a 1940 Texas A&M graduate, and his wife are underwriting the annual institute with a gift of $1 million, to be combined with gifts from other donors to create a permanent endowment in support of the institute. Additionally, they have given $200,000 toward first-year expenses.

The Mitchells are providing a second $1 million gift, matched by the university, to establish the Stephen Hawking Chair in Fundamental Physics. At $2 million, the Hawking Chair is among the best endowed at Texas A&M.

Also, the Mitchells have committed an additional $500,000 toward endowing a second chair in physics, provided that additional sources contribute the remainder of the $1 million endowment.

Mitchell, former chairman and chief executive officer of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp., is a distinguished graduate of Texas A&M's Department of Petroleum Engineering and a longtime benefactor of Texas A&M. Generous in giving both funding and time to his alma mater, he is credited with gifts ranging from 135 acres of land for Texas A&M's Galveston campus on Pelican Island to his service as chair of the Target 2000 project committee in the early 1980s.

"I believe these contributions for the creation of the chair in fundamental physics and the Stephen Hawking Chair will add prestige to the Department of Physics and to Texas A&M University," Mitchell says.

The Mitchells' gifts to physics will be counted in "One Spirit One Vision," a multi-year fund-raising campaign to help Texas A&M attain national top 10 status among public universities.

"One of the main goals of Vision 2020 is to elevate the arts and sciences core," says H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science. "As a result of Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell's generosity, our physics department will have two new endowed chairs and the nation's first institute featuring Stephen Hawking. Their gifts will go a long way toward turning the dreams of Vision 2020 into reality, not only for Texas A&M physics, but for the entire College of Science."

Perhaps best known for his vision in developing The Woodlands, Mitchell also was instrumental in founding the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), where he has worked with several Texas A&M researchers, including Fry and current physics faculty Peter McIntyre, Marlan Scully and Dimitri Nanopoulos.

"For some time now, I've had an interest in fundamental physics, which was expressed through the Superconducting Super Collider program with the Houston Advanced Research Center, the Universities Research Association Inc. and its 77 member universities, the U.S. Department of Energy and Texas A&M University," Mitchell adds.

McIntyre, whose 15-year friendship with Mitchell dates back to their collaborative work on Texas' SSC project, says the idea for the Mitchell Institute was conceived as a way to reflect Mitchell's admiration for Hawking.

"Professor Hawking is a remarkable case of personal triumph as well as colossal achievement in one of the most profound and difficult frontiers of modern science," McIntyre says. "His story has long captured Mr. Mitchell's imagination."

Fry adds that pairing the insights of Hawking, who has long been a driving force in the development of new ideas in theoretical physics, with Texas A&M faculty expertise in these same areas is one key element in positioning his department as an influential force in physics for the 21st century.

Christopher Pope, a high-energy theorist at Texas A&M since 1988 who earned his doctorate working with Hawking, says he looks forward to another chance to collaborate with his one-time mentor.

"Stephen has been a great inspiration to me and to many other physicists," Pope says. "It is very exciting for all of us at Texas A&M that he has accepted our invitation to participate so prominently in the opening meeting of the George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell Institute. We are looking forward to a lively and productive time and to the developments that can follow from the meeting."

For more information on the inaugural Mitchell Institute or other activities of the Texas A&M Department of Physics, call (979) 845-7717.

Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 845-2869, via e-mail shutchins@tamu.edu, or Edward S. Fry, (979) 845-7717, via e-mail fry@physics.tamu.edu.

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Hutchins Shana

  • Partners in Progress

    George and Cynthia Mitchell (Photo Credit: Kaye Marvins Photographer)

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