Interesting Facts About Stephen Hawking
- Stephen Hawking’s full name was Stephen William Hawking. He was a physicist, cosmologist, and author who wrote about the universe in a way that is understandable to the general public.
- Stephen Hawking was born into a family of academics. His mother and father were from Oxford University, and reading is a common pastime for the family. It is said that their home was weirdly silent during meal times as everyone was engrossed reading books!
- During his elementary years, Stephen Hawking was an average student and was not exceptionally great in his academics. In fact, he did not learn to read until he was 8 years old. However, he was nicknamed “Einstein” at school because of his curiosity and potential.
- Aside from his family, one of the people who inspired the young Hawking was his mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta. Often referred to as “Mr. Tahta” by the great physicist, he guided Hawking and his friends in building a computer made from clock parts and other recycled materials.
- Hawking found his early undergraduate years in Oxford “ridiculously easy.” The academic aspects did not excite him so he joined the University College Boat Club. He took up coxing and rowing which improved his social life significantly.
- Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) when he was only 21 years old. This slow progressing illness robbed him of his ability to walk and, eventually, made him paralyzed. Despite being told that he only had two more years to live, he lived on for another 55 years until his death in 2018.
- Hawking has not only become known in the scientific community but in popular science as well among the general audience. His best-selling book A Brief History of Time sold millions of copies worldwide and was translated into different languages.
- Though he has made many scientific contributions, Hawking did not receive a Nobel Prize. One of the rules of the committee is that a theory must have experimental proof. Sadly, Hawking’s theories have not been validated in experiments yet. It is for the same reason that Albert Einstein was not awarded the Nobel Prize for his Theory of Relativity.
- Apart from his brilliance in the academe, Hawking was also known for his humor. He was an icon and made appearances in many famous shows like The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.
Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942 – March 14, 2018)
Stephen Hawking was an English scientist who was best known for his work in general relativity and black holes. His work focused on everything that there is to learn about the universe—and there is a lot. He discussed many things—from the origins of the Universe, the Big Bang, the structure of the cosmos, black holes, to even the existence of extraterrestrial beings.
It was long believed that nothing can escape black holes, but it turns out that they actually emit tiny particles called “Hawking radiation.” This discovery has advanced the study of black holes. And by combining the complex worlds of general relativity and quantum mechanics, this is the closest we have ever gone to the theory of everything.
What Is The Theory Of Everything?
To review, in science, the theory of everything is a hypothetical framework that sums up the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. This all-encompassing theory still remains one of the biggest mysteries in physics. However, Hawking’s work opened the door into which the scientific community could look into how everything in the universe is linked. A film with this title, The Theory of Everything, was made in 2014 about the life of Stephen Hawking.
“Stephen Hawking dies at the 76,” was one of the most common headlines in 2018. According to his family’s statement, he passed away at his home in Cambridge. Engraved on his gravestone is the statement “Here lies what was mortal of Stephen Hawking 1942-2018.” As per his request, the Bekenstein-Hawking entropy equation is also etched on this final resting place.
Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford England. His parents were Frank Hawking and Isobel Eileen Hawking, both physicians and academics. He had had three other siblings.
Though he had attended a preparatory school, Hawking revealed that he only learned how to read properly when he was about 8 years old. At St Albans School, his classmates called him “Einstein” for his brashness and unconventional intelligence, though it did not translate well into his grades.
At such a young age, Hawking and his friends made a computer using only recycled materials like clock parts, telephone switchboards, and other old components. It was also during his stay at the school that he met his mathematics teacher, Dikran Tahta, who, as he stated in later interviews, was one of the people who inspired him to pursue mathematics.
Education and Studies
Stephen Hawking’s parents, both graduates of the University of Oxford, were highly academic. His father was in the field of medicine and wanted his son to pursue the same. He believed that only a few job opportunities await math graduates. If Hawking indeed followed his father, “the medical world’s gain would have been a great loss to the world of physics and cosmology,” NASA commented.
Hawking followed in his parent’s footsteps at University College, Oxford in 1959. He was only 17 by then and studied physics and chemistry as it was not possible to pursue mathematics at the time. In his first years, Hawking immediately got bored as he did not find the academic work challenging enough. He said that it was rather “ridiculously easy.”
To pass the time, he joined the university boat club where he served as a coxswain. A cox is someone who is at the front of the boat and commands the rowers. His build and strong voice made him an ideal steersman. Joining the club made Hawking more sociable.
He enjoyed parties and become a popular college member. However, this left a strain on his academic life as his studies were compromised. Early signs of his illness started to show during his last year at Oxford.
Hawking pursued his postgraduate studies at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He chose the famous astrophysicist Fred Hoyle as his supervisor. However, Hoyle is already handling a lot of students so he was assigned with physicist Dennis William Sciama. Though he was initially disappointed with this, it later proved to be an advantage as Sciama was often around to talk with his students. Hoyle, on the other hand, had a lot of other engagements which meant he has lesser time for consultations.
After he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, Hawking’s movements have become more and more uncoordinated. He eventually lost his speaking and walking ability over time. He fell into depression but thanks to his determination and the encouragement of people around him, he continued his work. Hawking also poured himself into his studies as he thought that he might not have enough time to finish his PhD.
In 1966, Hawking obtained his doctoral degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specializing in cosmology and general relativity. His PhD thesis, Properties of Expanding Universes, examined gravity, the expansion of the universe, and the singularity theorem, among many others.
Personal Life and Marriages
Stephen Hawking married his first wife, Jane Wilde, in 1965. They met each other at a New Year’s party around 1962 and he was diagnosed with his condition a year later. The couple has three children—Robert, Lucy, and Timothy
As years passed by, Hawking’s condition worsened and he needed the assistance of nurses and caregivers. They were at home all the time which overwhelmed his family. Hawking’s and his wife’s marriage became strained but they remained married. Wilde met Jonathan Hellyer Jones and they developed romantic feelings for each other, but they remained platonic to not destroy the marriage.
Hawking grew close to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. He and Wilde divorced after 30 years and he married Mason in 1995. Wilde also remarried Jonathan Hellyer Jones. Hawking’s family and friends were rather suspicious of the way he was treated by his new wife. Other nurses believed that Mason was abusing him physically. Also, his children think that they cut them off from their father.
Hawking and Mason filed for divorce in 2006. Afterwhich, he grew closer with his first family once again.
Career as a Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist
What Did Stephen Hawking Do?
Stephen Hawking was a research fellow at Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge. Later, he became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1974. He also became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge from 1979 to 2009. Notable names, including Isaac Newton, held this position in the past.
Throughout his career, Hawking’s work dived deep into the subject of the universe and everything there is to explore about it. He touched on the theory of singularity in his doctoral thesis and expanded on this subject further. He was influenced by the work of Roger Penrose in space-time singularity and later applied this same principle in the context of the universe.
After his postgraduate studies, Hawking collaborated with Penrose to study further the existence of singularities. They also explored general relativity suggesting that space-time started at the birth of the universe, at the onset of the Big Bang. This temporal and spatial fabric ends in black holes where it is warped by immense gravity. By working on the numbers, Hawking proved, at least in equations, that Einstein’s general relativity points to a universe that began in singularity.
With these theories about the beginning and end, a connection must be drawn between quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. Thus, there must be a theory of everything that links these two.
Hawking devoted much of this time to studying black holes. Instead of an “event horizon,” he introduced what is called an “apparent horizon.” While the former is absolute, where nothing can escape, the apparent horizon is more local and it changes depending on the changes in the black hole.
It is commonly believed that black holes are so strong that they pull everything around them and that anything that enters them will never get out. We only know that they gulp in matter, not release them. However, Hawking challenged this by discovering what became known as Hawking radiation.
Apart from being determined to prove his theories right, Hawking was also known for his persistence to prove other people wrong when they challenge his ideas. This is where the discovery of Hawking radiation started.
In the early 1970s, Hawking proposed a law about black hole dynamics saying that black holes can never get smaller. However, he failed to consider entropy which is what the established second law of thermodynamics was about. He was questioned by Jacob Bekenstein, a graduate student at Princeton University. Bekenstein pointed out that, as a law of nature, entropy should apply to black holes as well.
Disproving To Prove
As Hawking was working to disprove Bekenstein, he derived the equations that showed the connection between entropy and black holes. Thermodynamics is, in fact, a factor in understanding black holes. By drawing the connection, he pointed out that anything with entropy also has a temperature and therefore radiates something. But how?
Hawking discovered that black holes emit radiation by applying quantum mechanics. According to quantum theory, nature has a physical property that can be traced back in its smallest form, in the form of atoms and subatomic particles.
When particles and antiparticles collide, they annihilate and disappear. However, near black holes, the pair sometimes never meet and become separated near the event horizon. As this happens, one particle can enter the event horizon while the other is outside, and they will never collide and annihilate. These quantum particles stream from the edge of the black hole in the form of radiation. This radiation became known as Hawking radiation, named after its discoverer.
Why Stephen Hawking Never Won a Nobel Prize
Experts agree with Professor Stephen Hawking that black holes emit radiation. However, just like the theory of relativity in Einstein’s time, it has not been proven experimentally yet. That is why, although his discovery is a major breakthrough, Hawking was never awarded a Nobel Prize.
But why is it hard to test Hawking radiation?
The temperature of a black hole is inversely proportional to its mass. It means that smaller black holes are hotter than the larger ones. On the other hand, the temperature is directly proportional to the amount of radiation a body emits. So as temperature increases, the radiation emitted also increases.
Our telescopes are only able to study large black holes as they are much easier to detect than smaller ones. However, the low temperature of these large black holes means that they also have much lesser radiation. Thus, experimenting on the existence of Hawking radiation is not yet possible.
Disability: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Perhaps, aside from his brilliant mind, another thing that made Stephen Hawking the icon that he is was his bravery in the face of this disability. He was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease that slowly affected his motor neurons.
Early signs of clumsiness were noticed by his friends when he was in his final year at Oxford. An incident in which he lost his balance and fell off the staircase became a clear indication that something was really wrong with him. He hit his head during this fall.
After doctor consultations and many tests, he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the first baseman Lou Gehrig who also suffered from the same condition. Hawking’s speech became slurred and his problems worsened over time.
Motor Neuron Disease Progression
As his illness progressed, he had a hard time using his arms and hand to write. As his legs weakened, he had to use crutches for support and he had a hard time giving lectures regularly. He was adamant that he did not need to use a wheelchair but his condition showed otherwise. Ultimately, he was persuaded to use one. He became infamous for his wild wheelchair driving.
When Hawking’s speech became affected, his friends and families had to interpret what he said so others would understand. Things got worse from there when he got pneumonia and had to undergo a tracheotomy. In this procedure, an opening is made in the neck of the patient to serve as an airway. He completely lost his speech in this procedure. Also, his condition became more fragile and he needed constant medical care.
Hawking was able to continue his work thanks to the Equalizer and EZ Keys programs of Walter Woltosz. This computer program allowed Hawking to press a switch to communicate. Interestingly, since he used an American accent in this program, people are sometimes surprised to know that he was actually British. When he lost the ability to use his hand, he controlled his communication device by using his cheek muscles.
An Inspiration In Life, Not Just His Work
Even with his disability, Hawking had accomplished much more than most people. The doctors told him that he only have 2 years to live, but he lived on for another 55 years after he was given the diagnosis. He defied the odds of his condition—and in unraveling the secrets of the universe as well!
As said about him in Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science, “He preferred to be regarded as a scientist first, popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams, and ambitions as the next person.”
Stephen Hawking Books
Throughout his career, Stephen Hawking wrote and co-wrote about 15 books. He not only wrote for the scientific community but to the popular audience as well. Because of this, his works had become such bestsellers as he was able to explain complex ideas and concepts to the common layperson.
|1973||The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time||Hawking wrote this book with mathematician George Ellis. It was highly technical as it was written for science specialists. It discussed space-time, the theory of relativity, and black holes, among others.|
|1988||A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes||This book became a hit because it targeted the general audience. It discussed cosmology, space-time, quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, and relativity, among others. It remained on the best-seller list for more than four years, sold more than 20 million copies, and has been translated to nearly 50 languages.|
|1993||Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays||This is a rich collection of Hawking’s essays and lectures. As indicated by the title, this book mainly discussed about black holes, their nature, and the possibility that they might lead to other universes.|
|1996||The Nature of Space and Time||It was written by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose. This book presents the views of the authors, in a debate, about the universe, quantum theory, and other topics in cosmology.|
|2001||The Universe in a Nutshell||This book was written for the general audience just like the famous A Brief History of Time. In this book, he discussed the topic of modern physics and its principles, as well as the idea that there must be a theory that unifies everything in the universe.|
|2002||On the Shoulders of Giants: The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy||This is a compilation of the works of five of the most important scientists who ever lived. It includes the scientific texts of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johanne’s Kepler, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein.|
|2005||God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History||This book is a compilation of some of the most important works in mathematics. It includes the life and works of great mathematicians from classical times like Euclid and Archimedes to 20th-century names like Alan Turing.|
|2006||A Briefer History of Time||This book was co-written with physicist Leonard Mlodinow. It was a follow-up of the 1988 A Brief History of Time. This popular book further discussed the topics of the previous book. While it added the latest developments in cosmology, it also examines the recurring questions about black holes, the big bang, quantum theory, and many others in a way that is understandable by the masses.|
|2010||The Grand Design||This book was co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow. This popular-science book examines the history of human knowledge about the universe, the existence or non-existence of God in science, the big bang, and M-theory, among others.|
|2011||The Dreams That Stuff Is Made of: The Most Astounding Papers of Quantum Physics and How They Shook the Scientific World||This book combined the most important concepts in science discovered. It included the works of many scientists and physicists like Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger, and Niels Bohr.|
|2013||My Brief History||This is a memoir by Stephen Hawking. In this more personal book, the late physicist wrote about his boyhood up to his journey as a cosmologist.|
|2018||Brief Answers to the Big Questions||This is another popular science book by Hawking. It discussed questions such as the existence of God, the mysteries of the universe, and the future of humanity, among many others. The book was still incomplete when he passed away and was finished through the collaboration of his family and colleagues.|
Stephen Hawking co-wrote a book series with his daughter Lucy Hawking. It catered to the younger generation of readers. This children’s book series centered on the adventures of the main character, George.
- 2007- George’s Secret Key to the Universe
- 2009- George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt
- 2011- George and the Big Bang
- 2014- George and the Unbreakable Code
- 2016- George and the Blue Moon
More Stephen Hawking Facts
Aside from his brilliance in science, Stephen Hawking was also known for his sense of humor. He appeared in many shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons, the Big Bang Theory, and several documentaries. In 2014, a biographical film titled The Theory of Everything was made. Actor Eddie Redmayne portrayed Hawking’s role in which he won his first Oscar award.
Hawking had always dreamed of traveling to space. In 2007, he experienced weightlessness in a modified Boeing jet. In an interview, he said that people who knew him well said that his smile was the biggest they ever saw when he was on this zero-gravity flight. On another note, he believed that time travel should be possible too.
Hawking also shared some fascinating views about aliens and the future of humanity. He stated that aliens likely exist given the vastness of the universe. However, contacting them would be a bad idea as they would likely ransack our planet for resources. He likened it to what happened to Native Americans when Columbus arrived in America.
According to him, humans must find a way to leave Earth if we were to survive as a species. The population is booming while our resources are running out. Disasters are inevitable and the best thing for us to do is to “spread out into space and colonize worlds across the cosmos. ”
The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/science/01hawking.html
Stephen Hawking: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Stephen_Hawking.StarChild.jpg
Career as a Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cb/Stephen_hawking_2008_nasa_cropped.jpg/800px-Stephen_hawking_2008_nasa_cropped.jpg
Disability: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/Stephen_Hawking_050506.jpg/800px-Stephen_Hawking_050506.jpg
More Stephen Hawking Facts: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/08/Physicist_Stephen_Hawking_in_Zero_Gravity_NASA.jpg/1024px-Physicist_Stephen_Hawking_in_Zero_Gravity_NASA.jpg