Legendary British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who explored the mysteries of the universe from his wheelchair and went on to become an inspiring figure globally, died at his home in Cambridge.
Thousands flooded social media late Tuesday after news broke that famed Physicist Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76. Celebrities, scientists and world leaders took to Twitter to pay tribute to the author of a ‘Brief History of Time’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday condoled the demise of cosmologist Stephen Hawking and said his grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world. Modi described Hawking as an outstanding scientist and academic and said his demise was “anguishing”.
Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.”
Even if you don’t keep a close eye on new developments in physics, you’ve probably heard of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. He prided himself on making his complex physical concepts accessible to the public and writing the bestseller, “A Brief History of Time.”
And if you are a fan of Conan O’Brien, “The Simpsons” or “Star Trek,” you might have seen him brandishing his cool wit during guest appearances on those shows.
Hawking contracted motor neurone disease in 1963 and was given two years to live but he went on to study at Cambridge and became one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein.
Many find it surprising, for instance, that, despite his influential body of work, Hawking was never awarded the Nobel Prize. We’ll talk about some of the remarkable distinctions he did receive, however.
Another interesting fact : Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942, which just happened to be the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death.
But this has just been the warm-up. Next, we’ll delve into some fascinating and unexpected facts about Hawking, including some things about his profoundly inspirational story.
These days, we know Hawking as a brilliant mind whose theories are difficult for a nonscientific mind to grasp. This is why it may come as a shock to learn that Hawking was a slacker when it came to his school studies. In fact, when he was 9 years old, his grades ranked among the worst in his class, with a little more effort, he brought those grades up to about average, but not much better.Despite his poor grades, both his teachers and his peers seemed to understand that they had a future genius among them, evidenced by the fact that his nickname was “Einstein.”
The problem with his mediocre grades was that his father wanted to send him to Oxford, but didn’t have the money without a scholarship. Luckily, when it came time for the scholarship exams, he aced them, getting a near perfect score on the physics exam.
At the St. Albans High School, he built a computer along with his group of friends and his Mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta from an old telephone switchboard, clock parts, and other recycled components.
Stephen Hawking took a liking to mathematics from an early age, and he would have liked to have majored in it. His father, Frank, however, had different ideas. He hoped Stephen would study medicine. In fact, even within physics, he focused on the bigger questions. When faced with deciding between the two tracks of particle physics, which studies the behavior of subatomic particles, versus cosmology, which studies the large universe as a whole, he chose the latter. He chose cosmology despite the fact that, at that time, he says, it was “hardly recognised as a legitimate field.
Stephen was very adventurous and witty in his youth and was a part of the rowing team at the University College, Oxford.
As a graduate student, Hawking gradually started showing symptoms of tripping and general clumsiness. His family became concerned when he was home during his Christmas break from school, and they insisted he see a doctor. Before seeing a specialist, however, he attended a New Year’s party where he met his future wife, Jane Wilde who was a friend of his sister . She remembers being attracted to his “his sense of humor and his independent personality.”
He turned 21 a week later, and shortly after he entered the hospital for two weeks of tests to discover what was wrong with him. He was then diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurological disease that causes patients to lose control of their voluntary muscles. He was told he’d probably only have 2 years to live, but Hawking became more optimistic and started dating Jane. They were soon engaged, and he cited their engagement as giving him “something to live for.
One of Hawking’s major achievements was to come up with the theory that the universe has no boundaries. In 1983, the effort to understand the nature and shape of the universe, Hawking and Hartle combined the concepts of quantum mechanics (the study of the behavior of microscopic particles) with general relativity (Einstein’s theories about gravity and how mass curves space) to show that the universe is a contained entity and yet has no boundaries.
In 2004, the genius Hawking admitted he had been wrong and conceded a bet he made in 1997 with a fellow scientist about Black Holes. To understand the bet, let’s backpedal a little to understand what black holes are in the first place.
Stars are gigantic – they have so much mass that their gravity is always incredibly strong. This is fine, as long as the star continues to burn its nuclear fuel, exerting this energy outward, thus counteracting gravity. However, once a massive enough star “dies” or burns out, gravity becomes the stronger force, and causes that big star to collapse on itself. This creates what scientists call a black hole. Gravity is so powerful in this collapse that not even light can escape. However, Hawking proposed in 1975 that black holes are not really black. Rather, they radiate energy.
In his long career in physics, Hawking racked up an incredibly impressive array of awards and distinctions. We don’t hope to be exhaustive in this small space, but we’ll go over some of the highlights.
In 1974, he was inducted into the Royal Society and receive the Albert Einstein Award and Hughes Medal from the Royal Society. Hawking had so well established himself in the academic world by 1979 that he attained the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in England, a position he would keep for the next 30 years. The chair dates all the way back to 1663, and the second person to hold it was none other than Sir Isaac Newton.
In the 1980s, he was invested as a Commander of the British Empire, which is a rank in the U.K. just under being knighted. He also became a Companion of Honour, which is another distinction given in recognition of national service. There can be no more than 65 members of the order at one time. In 2009, Hawking was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
All the while, Hawking attained at least 12 honorary degrees. However, the Nobel Prize eluded him.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected facts of Stephen Hawking’s resume is that of being a children’s book author. In 2007, Stephen and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, collaborated to write “George’s Secret Key to the Universe.”
Considering all of Hawking’s work in cosmology, people are understandably interested in his opinions on the possibility of alien life. During NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2008, Hawking was invited to speak, and he mentioned his thoughts on the subject.He expressed that, given the vastness of the universe, there very well could be primitive alien life out there, and it is possible, other intelligent life.
Hawking also did an episode on the possibility of aliens for “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking” on the Discovery Channel.
In 2007, when Stephen Hawking was 65 years old, he got to take the ride of a lifetime. He was able to experience zero-gravity and float out of his wheelchair thanks to Zero Gravity Corp. The service involves an airplane ride in which sharp ascent and descent allows passengers to experience weightlessness in flight for several rounds, each about 25-seconds long.Hawking, free from his wheelchair for the first time in four decades, was even able to perform gymnastic flips.
Due to the possibility of global warming or nuclear war, Hawking has said that the future of the human race, if it is going to have a long one, will be in outer space. He supported private space exploration in hopes that space tourism will become affordable for the public. He hoped that we could travel to other planets to use their resources to survive.
In the early hours of March 14, 2018, Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge. It was coincident that on the day of his death, it was the 30th anniversary of Pi Day, a day for celebrating the mathematical constant pi.