Probably the most prodigious mind of the 21st century, at least so far. Stephen Hawking was a British theoretical physicist and cosmologist who changed the way we understand the universe today. Find out what Stephen Hawking’s greatest achievements are, but also what his life was like.
The Life of Stephen Hawking
Not only did his extensive research work leave an indelible mark on the history of science, but his personal situation made him an example of self-improvement: at the age of 22, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) .
However, his intellectual brilliance propelled him among the most prolific scientists in history. His main contribution to science lies in what is known as the “theory of everything”, words that also give the name to his biographical film released in 2014. In other words, he was the first scientist to try to unify Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity with the laws of quantum physics.
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The laws that govern the cosmos are not the same that scientists observe in the infinitesimal world of tiny particles like electrons, protons and neutrons. Reconciling the two is one of the greatest mysteries of modern science.
Although there are several equations that attempt to answer this challenge, Hawking developed his main and most pioneering theory. According to this theory, black holes are not “black” at all, but rather emit radiation: the so-called Hawking radiation.
In addition, other conjectures of the workings of the universe developed by Hawking in his long years of research are the theory of imaginary time, and that which postulates that the universe has no boundaries as such, so that time itself originated in the Big Bang.
Stephen Hawking stood out from childhood for his brilliance so much so that he submitted his PhD thesis when he was only 24 years old. The thesis, entitled “Properties of Expanding Universes”, has been public since 2017 and can be consulted at the University of Cambridge.
If his illness did not prevent him from developing as one of the most remembered scientists in history, it did not limit him when it came to emotional development. He was married twice, 1965 and 1995, and had three children.
In the last years of his life, the cosmologist did not stop publishing and lecturing, as a great reference in the current study of the universe, but also of the future of humanity as a species. In one of his last public speeches, he warned that humans will have to leave Earth to survive as a species.
He also made important reflections about life on other planets and the possibility of intelligent life in other parts of the cosmos, whose opinion was heard and appreciated by the highest personalities in the world of science until his last days.
Stephen Hawking dreamed of traveling in space, although he managed to recreate the experience of zero gravity only when he was 65 years old. After his death, current science was left without one of its main figures. In this gallery, we review the most important events in his life, as well as his most important contributions to humanity.
The physicist experienced weightlessness at the age of 65
Professor Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, exactly 300 years after Galileo’s death, in Oxford, England. Hawking went to St. Albans School and then to University College, Oxford. Hawking wanted to study Mathematics, but it was not available at University College, so he studied Physics instead.
After three years and not much work, he got a first class honors degree in natural sciences. In October 1962 he came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University to do research in cosmology, as there was no one working in that area at Oxford at the time.
In 1963, he slipped and fell during a skating session and had mobility difficulties. He was immediately diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he was only 22 years old. An illness that gradually limited his mobility.
For his doctorate, he hoped to have Fred Hoyle, who was working at Cambridge, as his supervisor, but he did not get it, since the famous astronomer had too many requests. A happy fact, as his stationary theory would be disproved years later. This postulated that the decrease in the density of the universe is compensated by a constant creation of matter.
In 1965, while pursuing his doctorate, he married Jane Wayline, with whom he had three children. He would later divorce and remarry Elaine Mason, the nurse who looked after him, in 1995. Hawking eventually earned his doctorate with his thesis, entitled “Properties of Universes in Expansion”, which he presented it to Trinity College at the age of 24.
The 119-page document was made public in October 2017. Professor Stephen Hawking holds a total of 13 honorary degrees. He was awarded the CBE (1982), Companion of Honor (1989) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009).
He has received numerous medals and awards, including the Fundamental Physics Prize (2013), the Copley Medal (2006), and the Wolf Foundation Award (1988). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
In 1966 he won the Adams Prize for his essay “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time”. He became Professor of Gravitational Physics (1975), then held the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (1979-2009).
Stephen Hawking was not only a prodigious researcher, but also an excellent author. He published his first popular book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, in 1973 with GFR Ellis. Also among his many publications are General Relativity: An Einstein Centennial Survey, with W. Israel, and 300 Years of Gravitation, with W Israel.
Popular books Stephen Hawking has published include the bestsellers A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, The Universe in a Nutshell, The Grand Design and My Brief History.
Gradually, the immobility spread from the limbs to the whole body, forcing him to rely on a chair. But his physical limitations never stopped him from becoming a brilliant and prolific scientist. In 1985 he suffered from pneumonia which forced the doctors who treated him to perform a tracheostomy. This delicate intervention caused him to permanently lose his voice.
For this reason, since 1997, its communication system is based on a computer. It’s a tablet installed in the arm of his wheelchair that runs on the chair’s own batteries. This sophisticated system was provided by Intel Corporation.
The theory of everything
Professor Stephen Hawking has spent his life researching the basic laws that govern the universe. In fact, he was the first to develop an equation to try to unify general relativity and quantum physics, a “theory of everything”.
Hawking radiation: This equation is called the black hole temperature formula. His idea is that a black hole is not really a black hole, but that it emits radiation, so-called “Hawking radiation”. In addition, Stephen Hawking had been working on a possible resolution of the black hole information paradox, that is, physical information can permanently disappear inside a black hole.
Hawking also established the assumption that the universe has no limit in imaginary time. Furthermore, in 1970, together with Roger Penrose, he showed that Einstein’s general theory of relativity assumed that space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes . These results indicated that it was necessary to unify general relativity with quantum theory: that is, to find a “theory of everything”.
Hawking’s latest revelation to the world came in an interview with popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the National Geographic Channel’s latest “Star Talk.” To the question “What was before there was anything?”, the British physicist answered:
“The boundary condition of the universe is… that it has no boundary.”
That is, time began in the Big Bang. One of Stephen Hawking’s great hopes was to travel into space. When he was 65, he experienced zero gravity on a Boeing 727 airplane from the Zero Gravity company. It was one of the cosmologist’s most memorable moments.
In one of his last public statements, Hawking offered an apocalyptic vision of the future of human beings. In the summer of 2017, at the Starmus science festival in Norway, he issued the following warning:
“We won’t have a future if we don’t colonize space”
Hawking, considered the most important theoretical physicist of our time, died in the early hours of March 14, 2018, at his home in Cambridge. Interestingly, his death occurred on the same day as the birth of Albert Einstein, the only scientist in history who will be able to compete with him in relevance.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny” – Stephen Hawking