Today is the 78th birthday of the scientist Stephen Hawking. Undaunted by his afflictions, he chose to focus on his gifts. We are all very lucky that he did. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Stephen Hawking
OCCUPATION: Scientist, Physicist
BIRTH DATE: January 8, 1942
DEATH DATE: March 14, 2018
EDUCATION: University of Cambridge, California Institute of Technology, Oxford University, Gonville & Caius College
PLACE OF BIRTH: Oxford, England, United Kingdom
PLACE OF DEATH: Cambridge, England, United Kingdom
EDDINGTON MEDAL 1975
HUGHES MEDAL 1976
ALBERT EINSTEIN MEDAL 1979
ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY GOLD MEDAL 1985 (with Thomas Gold)
WOLF PRIZE IN PHYSICS 1988 (with Roger Penrose)
PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM 12-Aug-2009
COMMANDER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE 1982
ROYAL SOCIETY 1974
ASTEROID NAMESAKE 7672 Hawking
BEST KNOWN FOR: Scientist Stephen Hawking was known for his groundbreaking work with black holes and relativity, and was the author of several popular science books including ‘A Brief History of Time.’
Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942, the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo—long a source of pride for the noted physicist.
The eldest of Frank and Isobel Hawking’s four children, Stephen Hawking was born into a family of thinkers. His Scottish mother earned her way into Oxford University in the 1930s—a time when few women were able to go to college. His father, another Oxford graduate, was a respected medical researcher with a specialty in tropical diseases.
Stephen Hawking’s birth came at an inopportune time for his parents, who didn’t have much money. The political climate was also tense, as England was dealing with World War II and the onslaught of German bombs. In an effort to seek a safer place, Isobel returned to Oxford to have the couple’s first child. The Hawkings would go on to have two other children, Mary (1943) and Philippa (1947). And their second son, Edward, was adopted in 1956.
The Hawkings, as one close family friend described them, were an “eccentric” bunch. Dinner was often eaten in silence, each of the Hawkings intently reading a book. The family car was an old London taxi, and their home in St. Albans was a three-story fixer-upper that never quite got fixed. The Hawkings also housed bees in the basement and produced fireworks in the greenhouse.
In 1950, Hawking’s father took work to manage the Division of Parasitology at the National Institute of Medical Research, and spent the winter months in Africa doing research. He wanted his eldest child to go into medicine, but at an early age, Hawking showed a passion for science and the sky. That was evident to his mother, who, along with her children, often stretched out in the backyard on summer evenings to stare up at the stars. “Stephen always had a strong sense of wonder,” she remembered. “And I could see that the stars would draw him.”
Hawking was also frequently on the go. With his sister Mary, Hawking, who loved to climb, devised different entry routes into the family home. He loved to dance and also took an interest in rowing, becoming a team coxswain in college.
Early in his academic life, Hawking, while recognized as bright, was not an exceptional student. During his first year at St. Albans School, he was third from the bottom of his class. But Hawking focused on pursuits outside of school; he loved board games, and he and a few close friends created new games of their own. During his teens, Hawking, along with several friends, constructed a computer out of recycled parts for solving rudimentary mathematical equations.
Hawking entered University College at Oxford University at the age of 17. Although he expressed a desire to study mathematics, Oxford didn’t offer a degree in that specialty, so Hawking gravitated toward physics and, more specifically, cosmology.
By his own account, Hawking didn’t put much time into his studies. He would later calculate that he averaged about an hour a day focusing on school. And yet he didn’t really have to do much more than that. In 1962, he graduated with honors in natural science and went on to attend Trinity Hall at Cambridge University for a PhD in cosmology.
At a New Year’s party in 1963, shortly before he had been diagnosed with ALS, Stephen Hawking met a young languages undergraduate named Jane Wilde. They were married in 1965. The couple gave birth to a son, Robert, in 1967, and a daughter, Lucy, in 1970. A third child, Timothy, arrived in 1979.
In 1990, Hawking left his wife, Jane, for one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. The two were married in 1995. The marriage put a strain on Hawking’s relationship with his own children, who claimed Elaine closed off their father from them. In 2003, nurses looking after Hawking reported their suspicions to police that Elaine was physically abusing her husband. Hawking denied the allegations, and the police investigation was called off. In 2006, Hawking and Elaine filed for divorce.
In the following years, the physicist reportedly grew closer to his family. He reconciled with Jane, who had remarried. And he published five science-themed novels for children with his daughter, Lucy.
In 1968, Hawking became a member of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. The next few years were a fruitful time for Hawking and his research. In 1973, he published his first, highly-technical book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, with G.F.R. Ellis.
In 1979, Hawking found himself back at Cambridge University, where he was named to one of teaching’s most renowned posts, dating back to 1663: the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.
In 1974, Hawking’s research turned him into a celebrity within the scientific world when he showed that black holes aren’t the information vacuums that scientists had thought they were. In simple terms, Hawking demonstrated that matter, in the form of radiation, can escape the gravitational force of a collapsed star. Another young cosmologist, Roger Penrose, had earlier discovered groundbreaking findings about the fate of stars and the creation of black holes, which tapped into Hawking’s own fascination with how the universe began. The pair then began working together to expand upon Penrose’s earlier work, setting Hawking on a career course marked by awards, notoriety and distinguished titles that reshaped the way the world thinks about black holes and the universe.
When Hawking’s radiation theory was born, the announcement sent shock waves of excitement through the scientific world. Hawking was named a fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 32, and later earned the prestigious Albert Einstein Award, among other honors. He also earned teaching stints at Caltech in Pasadena, California, where he served as visiting professor, and at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge.
In August 2015, Hawking appeared at a conference in Sweden to discuss new theories about black holes and the vexing “information paradox.” Addressing the issue of what becomes of an object that enters a black hole, Hawking proposed that information about the physical state of the object is stored in 2D form within an outer boundary known as the “event horizon.” Noting that black holes “are not the eternal prisons they were once thought,” he left open the possibility that the information could be released into another universe.
In a March 2018 interview on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk, Hawking addressed the topic of “what was around before the Big Bang” by stating there was nothing around. He said by applying a Euclidean approach to quantum gravity, which replaces real time with imaginary time, the history of the universe becomes like a four-dimensional curved surface, with no boundary.
He suggested picturing this reality by thinking of imaginary time and real time as beginning at the Earth’s South Pole, a point of space-time where the normal laws of physics hold; as there is nothing “south” of the South Pole, there was also nothing before the Big Bang.
In 2007, at the age of 65, Hawking made an important step toward space travel. While visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he was given the opportunity to experience an environment without gravity. Over the course of two hours over the Atlantic, Hawking, a passenger on a modified Boeing 727, was freed from his wheelchair to experience bursts of weightlessness. Pictures of the freely floating physicist splashed across newspapers around the globe.
“The zero-G part was wonderful, and the high-G part was no problem. I could have gone on and on. Space, here I come!” he said.
Hawking was scheduled to fly to the edge of space as one of Sir Richard Branson’s pioneer space tourists. He said in a 2007 statement, “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”
On March 14, 2018, Hawking finally succumbed to the disease that was supposed to have killed him more than 50 years earlier. A family spokesman confirmed that the iconic scientist died at his home in Cambridge, England.
The news touched many in his field and beyond. Fellow theoretical physicist and author Lawrence Krauss tweeted: “A star just went out in the cosmos. We have lost an amazing human being. Stephen Hawking fought and tamed the cosmos bravely for 76 years and taught us all something important about what it truly means to celebrate about being human.”
Hawking’s children followed with a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
Later in the month, it was announced that Hawking’s ashes would be interred at Westminster Abbey in London, alongside other scientific luminaries like Newton and Charles Darwin.
On May 2, 2018, his final paper, titled “A smooth exit from eternal inflation?” was published in the Journal of High Energy Physics. Submitted 10 days before his death, the new report, co-authored by Belgian physicist Thomas Hertog, disputes the idea that the universe will continue to expand.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Hawking (28-Jun-2013) · Himself
The Unbelievers (29-Apr-2013) · Himself
Surviving Progress (11-Sep-2011) · Himself
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs (24-Jun-2008) · Himself [VOICE]
The 11th Hour (19-May-2007) · Himself
A Brief History of Time (Oct-1991) · Himself
Author of books:
A Brief History of Time (1988, popular science)
Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993, popular science)
The Universe in a Nutshell (2001, popular science)
The Grand Design (2009, popular science)