The astronomer, cosmologist and mathematician Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14th. A spokesperson for his family brought the news. Hawking was considered as one of the greatest scientists and thinkers of our time.
He was born on January 8th, 1942 in Oxford, after his parents moved away from London to escape the Luftwaffe’s bombings. After obtaining his doctorate degree at the University of Oxford, he went to Cambridge to do some post-doctoral research. There, in 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neuron disease. The doctors had initially given him a few years to live, but that did not deter him. Although the disease slowly left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound, he married Jane Wilde in 1965 and had three children. He divorced in 1995 and married Elaine Mason, with whom he lived until his divorce in 2006.
Stephen Hawking was a brilliant man, and contributed to the advancement of science and its divulgation in many ways. Amongst others, he was responsible for discovering the phenomenon known as Hawking radiation. This event occurs in black holes: they leak the energy of the matter they have attracted and eventually disappear. Hawking also published numerous books, including “The Universe in a Nutshell”, “The Grand Design”, and the famous “A Brief History of Time” that sold around ten million copies.
As did Sir Isaac Newton, Hawking held the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics seat at Cambridge from 1979 to 2009. Afterwards, he stepped down and worked as director of research at the Institute of Theoretical Cosmology. For his work, the physicist received numerous awards and distinctions such as the Albert Einstein Medal in 1978, the title of Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1982, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009 and the Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012.
The scientist also had many far-reaching ideas and was very active. He theorized that the mythic Theory of Everything would probably show that everything began with the Big Bang and that everything would end in black holes. He strongly advocated for caution when electing Trump for president in a letter by 375 scientists, specifying that the then-candidate’s policies and intent to leave the Paris climate agreement would be extremely harmful to the environment. Hawking also greatly encouraged space travel, as he once told CNN, “I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. […] It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next 100 years, let alone next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”
Hawking featured in many televised series such as Star Trek and The Simpsons. More recently, a movie exploring the scientist’s university life was filmed in 2014, with oscar winning Eddie Redmayne playing the role of the young Hawking.
Clearly, his widespread popularity arose not only from his brilliant intellect, but also his involvement with society in a variety of ways, his humour and his inspiring resistance to his disease. He is certainly a figure that will greatly be missed, not only in the scientific community, but worldwide. As theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss said on Twitter,” a star just went out in the cosmos. We have lost an amazing human being.”
Image Source: Flickr
Virginia Rufina Marquez-Pacheco
Science & Tech Editor
Originally published in Bandersnatch Vol. 47 Issue 11 on March 28, 2018