Stephen Hawking was regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history. His work on the origins and structure of the universe, from the Big Bang to black holes, revolutionized the field, while his best-selling books have appealed to readers who may not have Hawking’s scientific background. However Hawking died on March 14, 2018.
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, on 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, served as his electronic voice, 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.
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 dark 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.
Hawking was a popular writer. His first book, “A Brief History of Time” 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.
Hawking went 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.” Hawking 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.”
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.”
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail…There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” — 2011 interview with The Guardian
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.” — 2014 interview in El Mundo.