Stephen Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, professor and author known for his researches regarding black holes, relativity and radiation. His 2005 A Brief History of Time is one of the most popular modern science books.
Early Life and Interests
Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. He was the eldest child of Frank and Isobel Hawking, both graduates of Oxford University. His Scottish mother, Isobel, was one of few women to enter a prestigious university during her time, while his father, Frank, was a respected researcher specializing in tropical diseases.
Stephen was born in England at the height of World War II. He had three siblings, namely Mary (1943), Philippa (1947) and Edward (1956).
At an early age, young Stephen showed interest in science, specifically the sky. Together with his mother and siblings, they spent summer nights staring at the stars.
During his formative years, he entered St. Albans School. He made several friends and became fond of board games. Stephen also devised a computer for solving rudimentary mathematical equations.
With a desire to study mathematics, he entered Oxford University through a scholarship. At the age of 17, he got an almost perfect exam in physics. Since Oxford did not have a math degree, he preferred physics and chemistry. By 1962, Hawking graduated with honors in the field of natural science.
After graduation, he attended Cambridge University for his Ph.D. in cosmology.
At the age of 21, while studying in Cambridge, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. When he was still at Oxford, Hawking experienced occasional falling and slurring of speech.
Exhibiting early stages of ALS, doctors gave Hawking two and half years to live. After his diagnosis, Hawking spent most of his time conducting his studies and research, unlike when he was in Oxford.
In 1965, Hawking married Jane Wilde, an undergraduate student of languages, with whom he had three children, Robert (1967), Lucy (1970) and Timothy (1979).
Health Struggles and Success in Science
In 1968, Hawking joined the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge. After a year, he lost much of his body control and was forced to use a wheelchair.
In the mid-1970s, despite his worsening physical condition, his career continued to grow. By 1973, with G.G.R Ellis, Hawking published his first highly-technical book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time.
By 1974, together with cosmologist Roger Penrose, they expanded theories on black holes and the universe. Hawking demonstrated that black holes emit radiation, contradicting what scientists knew. It became known as Hawking Radiation.
By 1985, Hawking had completely lost his voice following a tracheotomy. In addition, he needed constant nursing care.
Moved by Hawking’s declining health, a scientist from Cambridge built a device that enabled Hawking to control a computer screen that would help him communicate. The speaking program allowed Hawking to choose words that passed through a speech synthesizer.
When Hawking lost movement in his fingers, the program was directed by his cheek muscle.
In 1988, Hawking published his book, A Brief History of Time, that gained him international prominence. It was a book about the cosmos, which offered topics on space and time, plus discussions about God and the future. He simplified terms that the general population could understand. It became one of London Sunday Times’ best-seller for four years and has been translated into 40 different languages.
Later life, Death, and Legacy
In 1995, five years after he left his wife, Hawking married one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. The couple divorced in 2006.
Among his famous publications were Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993), The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), On the Shoulders of Giants (2002), God Created the Integers (2005), A Briefer History of Time (2005), the Grand Design (2010), and My Brief History (2013).
He also wrote children’s book with his daughter, Lucy, including George’s Secret Key to the Universe (2007), George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt (2009), and George and the Big Bang (2011).
In 2007, Hawking experienced zero gravity while visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
During his lifetime, he received various awards including the Pope Pius XI Gold Medal for Science, the Albert Einstein Award, the Royal Society’s Hughes Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2009, Hawking met U.S. President Barack Obama to receive the Presidential Medal for Freedom for his contributions to the field of science.
In 2014, part of his life was depicted in the award-winning film
The Theory of Everything. British actor Eddie Redmayne played the role of Hawking.
In 2017, Cambridge posted Hawking’s 1965 doctoral thesis, Properties of Expanding Universes, which crashed the university server after overwhelming demand.
On March 14, 2018, at the age of 76, Stephen Hawking died at his home in Cambridge, England.