We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?
Science is the search for answers. Each field takes an in-depth look at what comprises it and how it all connects. Mathematics works with numbers and their relation to each other through patterns and structures. Chemistry observes the process by which compounds change at a chemical level and how these reactions occur. My studies focused on Biology, and brought me to a pursuit of understanding how living things are made, survive, and reproduce, and how they are all related to one another and can trace their origin back to a single point.
In Biology, this latter statement refers to all living things sharing a common ancestor and evolving into the diverse Tree of Life from it, but in Theoretical Physics it can apply to all of what we know and can observe in the universe (and beyond!) originating from one beginning from which everything was jam packed into a dense singularity and then exploded out into the expanding universe we live in. We know this now as the Big Bang, and a critical component of this theory – a mathematical equation that everything sprouted from a spacetime singularity – was proposed and put forth by one of the greatest minds to grace this Earth.
Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England on January 8, 1942. As a young student, he was recognized by his peers as highly intelligent and called “Einstein”, a fitting nickname for the man who would become renowned for being the first to craft a theory that would bring together Einstein’s famous general relativity with quantum mechanics (which old Albert despised). With Roger Penrose, a pioneer on black hole study, Hawking applied the same mechanics of the formation of black holes to the universe as a whole and the pair later worked (with others) to provide mathematical evidence of this. Hawking went on to contribute much to cosmology, the study of the universe, especially the beginning, growth, and end, an incredible achievement for anyone, but amazing considering his early diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hawking was quickly confined to a wheelchair, and eventually lost his ability to speak, but thanks to technological advancements, and the exceptional support of his family (big shout out to first wife, Jane) Hawking was able to continue to work and communicate his results with others. He became famous for his robotic-sounding speech generating device (SGD) that allowed him to speak without the use of his own voice. Indeed, as the world took notice of Hawking and his work, his SGD voice was his true voice to the world. While the vocal tone itself will still exist, it is a tremendous shame that we will not hear Dr. Hawking’s voice any longer.
Following the extraordinary man’s death at 76, Cambridge University, where he made career, first as a student, and later as a professor and researcher, made this memorial video for him:
Hawking was widely regarded as one of the most intellectual men of all time, and frequently was called the smartest man in the world, and for good reason. As a theoretical physicist, his study of black holes and cosmology (much of which was made freely available recently by the American Physical Society) was groundbreaking. However, it was his talent for simplifying complex theoretical physics, and helping those of us who don’t know a quasar from a quantum better understand black holes. His globally famous book, A Brief History of Time, was a landmark work of science writing and offered the greatest fellow minds of cosmology and laymen alike a look at the universe we all share. I highly recommend it, though I warn that while it does more easily explain black holes and how the universe works, it is still a lot to wrap your brain around. Good thing that Hawking is an excellent teacher.
The radiation emitted by black holes was proposed by Hawking and named “Hawking radiation” in honor of his discovery of it.
Hawking’s humor and wit made him relatable despite his insanely higher intelligence, and this helps in his writing in books like A Brief History of Time, as well as the numerous scientific shows he hosted. Not to mention, it also helped to put him on the pop culture map when he portrayed himself (or at least a hilarious version of himself) on shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons, and Futurama. He also was a great interview guest, with my favorite appearance on Last Week Tonight. And of course, Hawking’s life and romance with Jane was the subject of the terrific film The Theory of Everything, for which Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing the phenomenal physicist.
Hawking’s aptitude for presenting heavy information in a light manner inspired others to share his findings, including his daughter, Lucy.
Many scientists that followed him, have also made the most of his findings and skill for explaining them to the everyman.
He lived quite a life, and will be sorely missed by many, but whenever life gets you down,… well, I’ll let the masters explain what to do:
Thanks for reading and watching. In the words of Stephen Hawking, “Remember to look up at the stars, and not down at your feet.”