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Intel celebrates Stephen Hawking’s birthday with personalized silicon wafer

Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday last January. At the State of the Universe symposium, Intel promised Hawking a special present in honor of his momentous birthday. A year later, Intel has completed its ambitious gift. Presented by Martin Curley, Intel vice president and director of Intel Labs Europe, Hawking received a special 300mm silicon wafer.

The wafer, which would normally be used to produce Intel chips, is inscribed with the words “Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking” hundreds of times by nano-scale copper lines. The width of each letter is about ten microns, or ten times smaller than the width of a human hair. 

The ceremony took place at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in Cambridge, UK, where Hawking is the founder and director of research. The research base features the COSMOS Mk IX supercomputer, which runs on 1,856 of Intel’s Xeon E5 processors cores and 31 of the company’s Xeon Phi coprocessors. The combined processors give the supercomputer a theoretical top performance of about 75 TFLOPS (one trillion floating-point operations per second). Right now, the COSMOS Mk will dedicate its significant power to investigating the origins of our universe, possibly unravelling the first few moments of the Big Bang. Intel announced that it will sponsor 2013’s annual Conference on Particle Physics and Cosmology (COSMO) in Cambridge this September. 

According to  Slashgear, the birthday present isn’t all that Intel’s working on for Hawking these days. As Hawking’s degenerative motor neuron disease progresses, the physicist has lost control over more of his muscles, which makes it harder for him to communicate. With Hawking’s current system, he uses twitches of his cheek to control a cursor that spells out words one letter at a time. He can only speak about one word each minute. Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said that since Hawking is still able to control a few other features, he may be able to communicate more quickly through Morse code in a system that responds to multiple facial cues. Intel is working on a new setup for Hawking that would allow him to speak faster by registering inputs from his eyebrow and mouth movements as well as movements in his cheek. 

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