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Remembering Stephen Hawking

Remembering Stephen Hawking
By Jim Campbell/Aero-News Network [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stephen Hawking — author, theoretical physicist, lecturer and one of the brightest minds in his field — passed away at age 76 in the early hours of March 14, 2018 at his family home in Cambridge, England.

Early Wednesday morning, Hawking’s children issued a message confirming their father’s death: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”

Hawking’s passing was not only a blow to his family, but to the scientific community and the general public alike. His breakthroughs in the field of theoretical physics have dazzled the world, leading many to praise him for his genius.

Hawking’s Early Life In Academia

Born in 1942 in Oxford, Hawking started pursuing his academic love for science  at the University of Oxford, where he concluded his degree in physics with first-class honors. He later estimated he had only worked roughly 1,000 hours for his three-year course at Oxford, and that his professors weren’t too keen on him as he was a difficult student. When the examiners were faced with the decision of attributing either a first or second-class degree, he gave them an ultimatum: give him a first and he would move to Cambridge to pursue a doctorate degree, or give him a second and have him back next year. The decision was made.

Later that year in October 1962, Hawking arrived in Cambridge ready to start another cycle of studies, this time at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). He did research in cosmology under Dennis Sciama’s supervision, since there was no one in Oxford doing research in this field.

Hawking Is Diagnosed With ALS At Only 21 Years Old

While still a graduate student, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with a rare case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1963, when he was only 21 years old. Doctors who examined him gave him no more than only two years to live, as ALS is a motor neuron disease for which we know no cure and is also particularly devastating in its progression.

Hawking always refused the death-sentence given to him, and his spirit never waned. Although he became increasingly clumsy and would fall down more and more often, he never once manifested his wish to halt his research.

During this decade, he went from using crutches to the confinement of a wheelchair, something he repeatedly refused to use until he lost all motor function and had no other choice. In 1985, Stephen Hawking relied on a computer-based speech mechanism to communicate, and from this year onward, he needed around-the-clock care.

Hawking Fights ALS & Pursues His Passion of Science

Despite all of his health complications, science was still Hawking’s biggest passion, and he never once gave that up. After completing his doctorate in 1965 with the thesis “Properties of Expanding Universe,” he continued to be an active part of the academic scientific community. He continued writing award-winning papers on cosmology and the space-time continuum, and soon began publishing books.

What pushed him to the general public’s spotlight was his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.” It sold more than 10 million copies and made it to the Guinness Book of Records, after staying on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for a staggering 237 weeks. It inspired numerous documentaries as well as semi-biographical feature-length Oscar winning picture “The Theory of Everything.”

Black Holes

Nothing drew the scientific community’s attention to him as much as his theory of black holes. By applying quantum theory, which was until then only applied to subatomic realities and never the macro-universe, he made the astonishing discovery that black holes were not actually black. He concluded that black holes, contrary to what was believed at the time, fizzled and leaked radiation and particles before they eventually exploded and disappeared forever. In a statement he gave in 1978 about this breakthrough, Hawking said, “I wasn’t looking for them at all. I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.” It was both his mathematical genius and sense of humor that made him so universally respected across the world.

Hawking Leaves Behind A Legacy

Despite death at 76 years old, with a lifespan that defied all odds and baffled doctors, Stephen Hawking will live on in what he loved and cherished most: science. Thanks to his breakthroughs and incessant dedication to physics, we know more than we have ever known, putting us a few steps closer to finding the history and nature of our universe.

 

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