“Creation’s Birthday” brings Edwin Hubble’s contentious life to the Fermilab stage

“Creation’s Birthday” will show in Ramsey Auditorium on July 5. Image: Mark A. Garlick

The astronomer Edwin Hubble fought many battles over the course of his life. In college he was a boxer, in graduate school he battled his thesis advisor and in his adult life, he had a major disagreement with the world’s most famous scientist. Now a play about his battles is coming to Fermilab.

On July 5, Cornell physicist Hasan Padamsee’s “Creation’s Birthday” will be showcased in Ramsey Auditorium. The play focuses on Hubble’s role in uncovering the origins of the universe.

“Many people have heard the name Hubble because of the Hubble Space Telescope,” Padamsee said, “but very few people know about Hubble the man.”

In the 1920s, Hubble found evidence that the universe was expanding, a key finding that came in conflict with the prevailing view that the universe was unchanging. The play shows Hubble at many of the key moments of his struggles with the scientific community in the early 20th century.

Padamsee, who wrote the play and is directing the July 5 production, said he was first attracted to Hubble’s characterization as a fighter. As a young man, Hubble fought with his father to study physics, even turning down a chance at a boxing championship match. He later squabbled with other astronomers and had a particularly sharp disagreement with Einstein.

“He’s always engaged in personal battles, not so much to be victorious, but to pursue his dream,” Padamsee said. “It’s a coming-of-age story of both Hubble and American astronomy.”

The play first ran last November in Chicago, when Fermilab Deputy Director Young-Kee Kim invited Padamsee to hold a showing in Ramsey Auditorium. This year, the Astronomy League of Chicago planned for part of its 150th anniversary celebration to be at Fermilab, so 200 amateur astronomers from the League are expected to be in the audience.

The performance begins at 5 p.m.; doors open at 4:50 p.m. Admission is free for all Fermilab employees, their companions and their families.

—Joseph Piergrossi