Stephen W. Hawking was a world renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrophysicist, professor and author from Cambridge University. He was best known for trying to explain in clear terms the origin of the universe and some of the most complicated aspects of the cosmos and physics.Unfortunately, he passed away on the early morning of Monday 14th of March at the age of 76 in his home in Cambridge, England.
Professor Hawking’s profession was theoretical physics, which is the field from which his work is based on. For those of you who don’t know, theoretical physics uses mathematics understand the phenomena (a fact or circumstance observed or observable) around us. It contrasts with experimental physics, as experimental physics uses experimental tools to prove these phenomena, unlike theoretical physics which uses theory.
Born on January 8th 1942 in Oxford, England, his family had moved to Oxford to escape the threat of the V2 rockets over London. As a child, he showed prodigious talent and unorthodox study methods, which consisted of using a few books and taking no notes. Surprisingly, he could still work out theorems and solutions that other students couldn’t. Once finishing school he got a place at University College, Oxford University where he studied Physics. His physics tutor at Oxford, Robert Berman, later said that Stephen Hawking was an extraordinary student.
Once gaining B.A. (Hons) in physics, he remained at Oxford University for a brief time to study astronomy, but wasn’t interested in observing sunspots, so he switched to Trinity College in Cambridge, where he was able to pursue his passion for theoretical astronomy and cosmology. Unfortunately, it was in Cambridge where he first started to develop symptoms of neuromuscular problems – a type of motor neuron disease, which interfered with his physical movements. Soon, his speech became slurred, so he could no longer speak clearly, and he became unable of even feeding himself. It got to the stage where doctors gave him a three-year life span. However, the progress of the disease slowed down and he managed to overcome his severe disability to continue his research and stay active public engagements. Thankfully, a fellow scientist at Cambridge developed a synthetic speech device which enabled him to speak using a touchpad. This early synthetic sound had become “the voice” of Stephen Hawking, and as a result he decided to keep the original sound despite the technological advancements.
His research involved theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. He developed a mathematical model for Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, as well as undertaking a lot of research on the nature of the Universe, The Big Band and Black Holes. In 1975, he outlined his theory that stated that black holes leak energy and fade away to nothing. This became known as the “Hawking Radiation”, and accompanied by mathematicians Roger Penrose he proved that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.
Despite being one of the greatest physicists of his generation, he has also been able to translate difficult physics models into a general understanding for the general public. His books A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell have both become bestsellers. Thanks to this, he has become one of the most famous scientists of his generations, often appearing in popular media culture from series such as The Simpsons and Star Trek.
- Stephen Hawking claimed that he didn’t learn how to read until the age of 8, and his grades never surpassed the average of his classmates. Still, his classmates didn’t hesitate to give him the nickname “Einstein”. He did actually build computers with his friends as a teenager and demonstrated a tremendous capacity for grasping issues of space and time.
- His Oxford entrance exams were good enough to get him a scholarship at age 17 to study physics, but he wanted to study mathematics, unfortunately it wasn’t available.
- He discovered the now known as the “Hawking Radiation”, discovery that has aided the world of astrophysics in a great way. It allowed for the comprehension of the true nature of black holes, as previously they were thought of as infinitely lasting.