Stephen William Hawking—A Challenging Life

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Stephen William Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 (300 years after the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. His parents’ house was in north London, but during the second world war, Oxford was considered a safer place to have babies. When he was eight, his family moved to St. Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London. At the age of eleven, Stephen went to St. Albans School and then on to University College, Oxford; his father’s old college. Stephen wanted to study Mathematics, although his father would have preferred medicine. Mathematics was not available at University College, so he pursued Physics instead. After three years and not very much work, he was awarded a first class honours degree in Natural Science.

Stephen then went on to Cambridge to do research in Cosmology, there being no one working in that area in Oxford at the time. His supervisor was Denis Sciama, although he had hoped to get Fred Hoyle who was working in Cambridge. After gaining his Ph.D. he became first a Research Fellow and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973, Stephen came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in 1979, and held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1979 until 2009. The chair was founded in 1663 with money left in the will of the Reverend Henry Lucas who had been the Member of Parliament for the University. It was first held by Isaac Barrow and then in 1669 by Isaac Newton. Stephen is still an active part of Cambridge University and retains an office at the Department for Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics. His title is now the Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

Stephen Hawking has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. These results indicated that it was necessary to unify General Relativity with Quantum Theory, the other great Scientific development of the first half of the 20th Century. One consequence of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but rather should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science.

His many publications include The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G F R Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W Israel, and 300 Years of Gravity, with W Israel. Among the popular books Stephen Hawking has published are his best seller A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, The Universe in a Nutshell, The Grand Design and My Brief History.

Professor Hawking has twelve honorary degrees. He was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes, is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Stephen was diagnosed with ALS, a form of Motor Neurone Disease, shortly after his 21st birthday. In spite of being wheelchair bound and dependent on a computerised voice system for communication Stephen Hawking continues to combine family life (he has three children and three grandchildren), and his research into theoretical physics together with an extensive programme of travel and public lectures. He still hopes to make it into space one day.
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A challenging life

British cosmologist Stephen William Hawking was born in England on Jan. 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day after the death of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. He attended University College, Oxford, where he studied physics, despite his father’s urging to focus on medicine. Hawking went on to Cambridge to research cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole.
In early 1963, just shy of his 21st birthday, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was not expected to live more than two years. Completing his doctorate did not appear likely. Yet, Hawking defied the odds, not only attaining his Ph.D. but also forging new roads into the understanding of the universe in the decades since.

As the disease spread, Hawking became less mobile and began using a wheelchair. Talking grew more challenging and, in 1985, an emergency tracheotomy caused his total loss of speech. A speech-generating device constructed at Cambridge, combined with a software program, serves as his electronic voice today, allowing Hawking to select his words by moving the muscles in his cheek.
Just before his diagnosis, Hawking met Jane Wilde, and the two were married in 1965. The couple had three children before separating. Hawking remarried in 1995 but divorced in 2006.
A brilliant mind
Hawking continued at Cambridge after his graduation, serving as a research fellow and later as a professional fellow. In 1974, he was inducted into the Royal Society, a worldwide fellowship of scientists. In 1979, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, the most famous academic chair in the world (the second holder was Sir Isaac Newton, also a member of the Royal Society.
Over the course of his career, Hawking studied the basic laws governing the universe. He proposed that, since the universe boasts a beginning — the Big Bang — it likely will have an ending. Working with fellow cosmologist Roger Penrose, he demonstrated that Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity suggests that space and time began at the birth of the universe and ends within black holes, which implies that Einstein’s theory and quantum theory must be united.

Using the two theories together, Hawking also determined that black holes are not totally silent but instead emit radiation. He predicted that, following the Big Bang, black holes as tiny as protons were created, governed by both general relativity and quantum mechanics. [PHOTOS: Black Holes of the Universe] In 2014, Hawking revised his theory, even writing that ” there are no black holes” — at least, in the way that cosmologists traditionally understand them. His theory removed the existence of an “event horizon,” the point where nothing can escape. Instead, he proposed that there would be an “apparent horizon” that would alter according to quantum changes within the black hole. But the theory remains controversial. [Portrait of Genius: Stephen Hawking Exhibit Photos] Hawking also proposed that the universe itself has no boundary, much like the Earth. Although the planet is finite, one can travel around it (and through the universe) infinitely, never encountering a wall that would be described as the “end.”

Hawking’s books
Hawking is a popular writer. His first book, “A Brief History of Time” (10th anniversary edition: Bantam, 1998) was first published in 1988 and became an international best seller. In it, Hawking aimed to communicate questions about the birth and death of the universe to the layperson.
Since then, Hawking has gone on to write other nonfiction books aimed at nonscientists. These include “A Briefer History of Time,” “The Universe in a Nutshell,” “The Grand Design” and “On the Shoulders of Giants.” [Related: 8 Shocking Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking’s Book “Grand Design”] He and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, have also created a fictional series of books for middle school children on the creation of the universe, including “George and the Big Bang” (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

Hawking has made several television appearances, including a playing hologram of himself on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and a cameo on the television show “Big Bang Theory.” PBS presented an educational miniseries titled “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” which probes the theories of the cosmologist.
In 2014, a movie based on Hawking’s life was released. Called “The Theory of Everything,” the film drew praise from Hawking, who said it made him reflect on his own life. “Although I’m severely disabled, I have been successful in my scientific work,” Hawking wrote on Facebook in November 2014. “I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island, down in a submarine and up on a zero-gravity flight. One day, I hope to go into space.”

Stephen Hawking quotes

Hawking’s quotes range from notable to poetic to controversial. Among them:
“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? ”
“All of my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them. If, like me, you have looked at the stars, and tried to make sense of what you see, you too have started to wonder what makes the universe exist.”
“Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.”
“The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. ”
“We should seek the greatest value of our action.”
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
“It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value. ”
“One cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem.”
“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”