The guitarist and co-founder of the legendary group Queen, the astrophysicist Brian May, received yesterday in the capital of Armenia what is probably the highest distinction awarded in the world to scientific research and communication, the Stephen Hawking Medal awarded by the Starmus Festival (science and music). Since 2005, the medal has been named after the scientist who died in 2018, the discoverer of black holes and the man who explained the universe from a wheelchair.
Every two years, Starmus celebrates its festival somewhere in the world and brings together dozens of musicians, astronauts, space researchers, scientists and experts on the Universe. For this VI edition, after the stoppage of the pandemic, it has chosen the capital of Armenia as its venue. The reason for this edition is the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of space research on the planet Mars, hence the list of speakers is full of space travelers and engineers who have had to do with this Martian curiosity.
The founder of the Festival, the astrophysicist Garik Israelian, an Armenian by origin, started Starmus a dozen years ago on the Canary Island of La Palma, but lack of support from the Spanish government forced him to walk it through more generous countries with science, such as Switzerland or Norway, where the last two editions have been held.
Brian May was not the only winner. Researcher Jane Goodall also received the award from her for decades in her life devoted to methods of interacting with gorillas in the mountains of Uganda. "All the Starmus festivals have been unique and incredible," Israelian had warned. "We have tried to do everything possible so that the sixth edition of Starmus is also historic and memorable, and as good as the previous ones."
No one expected that May would appear in Yerevan, but a driver from the organization picked them up at the airport around three in the afternoon and just two hours later, in maximum stealth, she was seen in the distance, in the corridors of the auditorium that hosts the event, a curly white mane walking alongside Professor Israelian, with whom May studied astrophysics. For the also musician, his first visit to Armenia has a very special meaning, since he has always confessed to being in love with the country, and in 1988 he organized an international fundraiser after the earthquake that devastated the country. Although he has participated in a way in all the editions of Starmus interpreting by surprise two or three of his musical themes, this year his artistic contribution will have much more presence, with a mini-concert next Wednesday. To be in Armenia he has interrupted for a few days the world tour that he is doing with his group.
Some 2,000 people attended this Monday night the opening of the Festival in Yerevan, this small and cozy city in the South Caucasus. It is estimated that a total of 7,000 will pass through the Karen Dmirchyan complex throughout this week, a lavish building from the Soviet era, from when Armenia was part of the USSR, located on the outskirts of the capital.
The Festival has just started. Students at Starmus partner educational institutions across the country will have the opportunity to hear from world-renowned scientists, astronauts and astrophysicists including Jim Bagian, Kip Thorne, Charlie Duke, Nagin Cox, Joel Parker, David Eicher, Tony Fadell, Donna Strickland and Jean-Jacques Dordain, among others.
In the past, Starmus hosted various Apollo astronauts (including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin), Alexei Leonov, and Victor Gorbatko. World-renowned scientists, 25 Nobel Prize winners and space explorers have shared their science from the Starmus stage, including Stephen Hawking himself, May-Britt Moser, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Elizabeth Blackburn, Donna Strickland, Jill Tarter, Kip Thorne, Robert Wilson, Michel Mayor, Eduard Moser, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Tony Fadell, and many other giants of science.
Stephen Hawking and Alexei Leonov, along with rock star and astrophysicist Brian May and his colleague Garik Israelian, worked to create the Stephen Hawking Medal, awarded to individuals and teams who have made significant contributions to science communication. Past recipients of the Medal include, among others, Elon Musk, musician Jean-Michel Jarre, science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson, producers of the series The big bang theory, physicist, writer and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili ; the soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer and the documentary Particle Lovers, directed by Mark Levinson and produced by David E. Kaplan, Mark Levinson, Andrea Miller and Carla Solomon.