A tribute article to Stephen Hawking who died early Wednesday (14 March 2018) at his home in Cambridge. He was 76.
Stephen Hawking is famous for his contributions in fields of cosmology, relativity and quantum physics related to black holes. His terrible disease, ALS, has left him completely paralyzed and he only speaks with a synthesized voice.
The degenerative disease is called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which damages the nerve cells in the spinal cord that control the body’s voluntary muscles. When diagnosed with it at the age of 22, he was given just a few years to live.
Early Life of Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford. Coincidentally, his date of birth was the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death, and close to the 300th anniversary of Newton’s birth. His brilliance at first was not apparent because he was a withdrawn child.
Aged 17, he took the entrance exam for Oxford University and was awarded a scholarship to study natural science. He emerged with a first-class degree three years later and went to Cambridge to study cosmology. A few months after arriving in Cambridge he was diagnosed with ALS, after suffering a few falls.
Marriage and the Brilliant Mind
About this time, he fell in love with 18-year-old Jane Wilde. Despite his illness he became determined to accomplish this career dreams. Jane remained his support for 25 years. They have three children.
Meantime, his scientific pursuit had started to flourish as he became known to the Royal Society community. There was a time when the prominent Fred Hoyle was giving a lecture on his steady-state theory, insisting that the universe is not forever expanding but just between expansion and contraction. At the end of Hoyle’s lecture, Hawking, the young graduate stood up and refuted Hoyle by claiming that the quantity of the universe, in fact, diverges. More than anyone, Stephen Hawking has demonstrated the power of mathematics in working out the cosmos.
Hawking’s Black Holes
At that time a young Oxford mathematician, Roger Penrose, was working on black holes and had shown that at the centre of a black hole, inside the event horizon, is a point where all the mass shrinks to nothing – that is, a point called “singularity.” By looking at the origins of the universe, Hawking turned this around and suggested that the big bang was basically a black hole in reverse, which means that it must have begun as a “singularity”, an infinitesimal (small) point containing the entire substance of the universe.
As Hawking’s reputation became widely known in the cosmology community, his body also began to deteriorate. With his speech slur and as he could hardly write, his wife took the dictation and all the necessary support.
When he was elected as the youngest fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, Hawking was assisted in a wheelchair with his voice dwindling to a moan, only understood by family, friends and close colleagues. In the late 70s, he made his famous discovery – that the black holes might not only be detectable, but that they might eventually explode, a radical idea that is still challenged by a few cosmologists.
A Brief History of Time
Sometime 1985, Hawking was only able to communicate through a blink of his eye. An American computer expert, Wal Woltosz, offered help by synthesizing Hawking’s voice with a tiny finger movement.
His bestseller book, A Brief History of Time (1988), became a bestseller science book in history, despite the complexity of the subject matter and his physical situation. This brilliant and courageous man, a major celebrity in science, has immensely revealed some ultimate truths about the universe. He also talks about the nature of God in the final chapter of his book.
Hawking’s ideas have been published in Nature magazine in a paper entitled “Black Hole Explosions?”, acknowledged as a classic of cosmology.