A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

On stage: Hubble’s contentious life and science

11/01/11

Long before a telescope was named for him, Edwin Hubble was a competitive boxer and a World War I veteran. He fought with his father over studying law; he fought with fellow astronomer Harlow Shapley about galaxies beyond the Milky Way. He even won a bitter argument with Albert Einstein, which became a premise for the big bang theory and led Einstein to famously admit his explanation of a cosmological constant as “the biggest blunder of [his] life.”

Now semi-retired Cornell physicist Hasan Padamsee has captured Hubble’s tumultuous story in “Creation’s Birthday,” a play directed by Rhiannon Cooper and performed at the Gorilla Tango Theater in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood beginning Nov. 5.

Chicago is where Hubble cut his teeth as an astronomer and why Padamsee chose the city. Hubble studied at the University of Chicago, where he got into boxing, track and basketball and later returned for his Ph.D., conducting research at the college’s Yerkes Observatory.

With decades of experience as an accelerator physicist, Padamsee had to learn an entirely different art form than the book writing he was accustomed to so that he could bring Hubble and his discoveries to the stage.

“The story has to come out of the conflict, out of the character,” he said of playwriting.

Padamsee’s idea for “Creation’s Birthday” rose from a story in his book “Unifying the Universe: The Physics of Heaven and Earth.” The book, he said, “looked at the development of science through the eyes and struggles of the scientist” and was a product of his experience teaching a lower-level physics course that strove for “a broader appeal to the general public.”

He said the goal for “Creation’s Birthday,” is for “audiences to experience the joy of discovery first hand, rather than reading about it in a book.”
Padamsee struck upon a name for the play when reviewing a speech by Hubble’s ally Father George Lemaître. The theoretical physicist and priest referred to new insight into the explosive expansion of the early universe as the “splendor of creation’s birthday.”

“Creation’s Birthday” is running for three Saturdays (Nov. 5, 12 and 19) at the Gorilla Tango Theater. Tickets can be purchased online at GorillaTango.com.

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