The Inspiring Life And Journey Of A True Genius - Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking is no more. Let us take a look back at his life, works and humor.
British theoretical physicist and cosmologist- Stephen Hawking was born on 8th January 1942 in Oxford, England. The ‘genius’ was born to Frank Hawking and Isobel Hawking. Despite financial constraints, Stephen’s parents were well read and educated. They both attended the University of Oxford. Hawking had two younger sisters and even an adopted brother. In 1950 Hawking’s father became the head of division of parasitology at the National Institute of Medical Research and then the family moved to St. Albans, Hertfordshire.
While they were in St. Albans, the family was perceived to be highly intelligent and eccentric. It’s been said that each person had their meals by silently reading a book. The family lived in a large poorly maintained house and traveled in a converted London taxicab. It’s believed that Stephen Hawking was not academically successful initially, however, he made tremendous progress with time and displayed great aptitude for scientific subjects. He was popularly known as “Einstein” in school. Hawking took up Physics and Chemistry as subjects after earning a place in Oxford University though his father always wanted him to pursue Medicine. The option of choosing mathematics was not available at that period.
Hawking began his University education in October 1959 at the age of seventeen. He completed his graduation at Trinity Hall, Cambridge in October 1962. While he was a graduate student, he began to get closer to Jane Wild who was his sister’s friend. He hadn’t been diagnosed with motor neurone disease then. They got engaged and later married in 14 July, 1965. They became parents to three children- Robert, Lucy and Timothy.
It was during his graduate years and during his courtship that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Needless to say, he was deeply saddened by the diagnosis and eventually he fell into a depression. However, his doctors advised him to continue his studies. The doctors expected him to live only two years however life had different plans for the ‘genius.’
Hawking’s disease weighed heavy on Jane and at times Jane felt overwhelmed with the influx of nurses and assistants. Graduate and post graduate students would often come home and assist in taking care of Hawking, on Jane’s proposal.
Hawking didn’t believe in God and declared himself as an atheist. His atheist views was another area that put a strain on his marriage, as Jane was a staunch Christian. He never believed in the existence of Heaven or afterlife. He once stated “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”
In the midst of taking care of Hawking, Jane had developed a keen interest in singing and in the interim got close to Organist Jonathan Hellyer, whom she met while singing in a church choir. Since they were determined not to break the family, they kept their relationship purely platonic. Eventually, Hawking had also grown close to one of his nurses- Elaine Mason, much to the surprise of colleagues and caregivers. He moved out of the family home and his ties with Jane and family became weaker. There were speculations that he was being physically abused, which initiated police investigations. Stephen Hawking however didn’t make any complaint. In 2006, Hawking and Mason quietly divorced and he resumed being close to Jane and his children.
Hawking was inspired by Mathematician Roger Penrose’s theorem of space-time singularity in the centre of black holes and he followed the same principles. It was on this topic that he wrote his thesis which was approved. He obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specializing in general relativity and cosmology. His essay titled "Singularities and the Geometry of Space” bagged him the prestigious Adam’s Prize.
While working in collaboration with Penrose he extended the singularity theorem which emphasized on the existence of singularities and the theory that the universe began as a singularity. Together they published a proof that if the Universe obeys the general theory of relativity then it must have begun as a singularity.
In 1970 Hawking postulated the second law of black hole dynamics. With James M Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics. In 1973, he did a study on quantum gravity and quantum mechanics. He discovered that Blackholes leak energy and emit radiation, today known as Hawking Radiation. They leak till they completely evaporate away.
With Penrose he demonstrated that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. He wrote and co-edited several books on Science that went on to become popular which includes ‘A Brief History of Time’.
Love for the Media
Unlike other people in his field, Hawking loved appearing on media. He had an opinion on every field be it pop culture or politics and that set him apart from the others. He has appeared in several popular TV shows such as The Simpsons, Red Dwarf and The Big Bang Theory. He told BBC’S ‘The Culture Show’ “The Simpsons is the best thing on American television.” ‘The Theory of Everything’ was a movie based on his life. Eddie Redmayne bagged the Oscar for best actor for portraying Hawking’s role.
Hawking in his lifetime has received numerous honors. In 1974 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences. In 2016, at the Pride of Britain Awards he received the ‘lifetime achievement award’ for his contribution to Science and British Culture.
Though doctors gave him only a few years to live, he went on to live a fulfilling and a successful life till the ripe age of seventy six. Hawking never allowed his disability to overpower his life. The inspiring ‘Hero’ lived successfully along with his superb sense of humor, as he said himself, “Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.”