“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” Stephen Hawking 1942-2018
Stephen Hawking defied the odds of ALS. He was told that he wasn’t supposed to live past 23. Yet, he forged roads into the understanding of our universe that will forever have an impact on science as a whole.
World renowned physicist Stephen William Hawking passed away peacefully at the age of 76. He died in his home in Cambridge on March 14, 2018.
Hawking was famed for his insights and work in physics and cosmology. His work regarding black holes and the Big Bang are highly esteemed. He was regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history.
He was born in England on January 8, 1942 — coincidently a date that is 300 years after the death of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. He was a student at University College in Oxford where he studied physics. He advanced to Cambridge as a researcher in cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole.
A few days close to his 21st birthday, Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and lesser known as motor neuron disease.
He wrote in his 2013 memoir about his reaction upon being diagnosed with ALS.
“I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me,” he wrote.
“At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realize the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life.”
As the disease spread, it also became more severe and left Hawking less mobile. It severed to where he began to use a wheelchair, and in 1985, an emergency tracheotomy resulted in his total loss of speech. His electronic voice stemmed from a speech-generating device constructed at Cambridge, allowing him to select his words through the movement of the muscles in his cheek.
Hawking continued at Cambridge after his graduation, serving as a research and professional fellow. In 1974, he was inducted into a worldwide fellowship of scientists known as the Royal Society. In 1979, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, the most famous academic chair in the world (the second holder was Sir Isaac Newton, also a member of the Royal Society).
Over the course of his career, Hawking studied the basic laws governing the universe. He proposed that, since the universe has a beginning — the Big Bang — it likely will have an ending. Paired with cosmologist Roger Penrose, he demonstrated that Albert Einstein‘s Theory of General Relativity suggests that space and time began at the birth of the universe and ends within black holes, which implies that Einstein’s theory and quantum theory must be united.
Using the two theories together, Hawking also determined that black holes are not totally silent but instead emit radiation. He predicted that, following the Big Bang, black holes were governed by both general relativity and quantum mechanics.
In the wake of his passing, many tributes have poured in. He is remembered for his “amazing willpower and determination”, “his burning passion to protect the National Health Service”, and for being “one of the great scientists of his generation”.
His theories continue to unlock a universe of possibilities and dreams that we continue to explore. We remember and thank Hawking for his strength, for showing us that we can accomplish great feats against all odds.