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Stephen Hawking: An Icon of Modern Science

Edited by: Sophia Savva

On March 14, 2018, we lost one of the greatest minds in modern science: Professor Stephen Hawking. Professor Hawking made many contributions to the field of cosmology, both in contributing ground-breaking theories and concepts with his research and making physics, mathematics, and cosmology more accessible to the general public. 

Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. ALS causes paralysis since the brain is unable to communicate with the body and its muscles, and patients typically lose the ability to talk, walk, eat, etc. Those with ALS typically do not survive for more than 10 years. Professor Hawking himself received a prognosis of not surviving more than 2 years. However, he battled ALS for over 56 years, and continued to postulate many important scientific concepts and contribute to the field of cosmology.

 

Contributions to physics

One of Stephen Hawking’s most prominent theories is the concept of Hawking radiation. Professor Hawking used the concepts of quantum theory and general relativity to show that black holes can emit radiation. It was once believed that once an object passes a certain “event horizon”, it couldn’t escape the pull of gravity into the black hole. This led to the popular belief that once an object enters the black hole, it can never come out again. Professor Hawking showed that radiation can be emitted through and out of the black hole, while becoming smaller. This concept became known as Hawking radiation, and is widely accepted. Professor Hawking also proved that the universe cannot be bound by spacetime. He explained that since the universe began at a single extremely small point that exploded (according to the Big Bang theory), there was no proper distinction between space and time. So space or time did not exist before the Big Bang. Which means there is no clear spacetime boundary for the universe. The idea is still debated, and Hawking describes this idea in his best-seller, A Brief History in Time (1988).

On the lighter side of things, Professor Hawking also strongly believed in the existence of extraterrestrial life. However, he did not think it was possible for human-like beings to exist in other parts of the universe, since it would be difficult and statistically unlikely for the exact same conditions of Earth to occur on other planets.

 

Making physics more accessible

One of Stephen Hawking’s most popular works, A Brief History of Time, is constantly revered due to its simplicity for those who are not experts in physics or cosmology. In general, Professor Hawking’s books are written in a way that make his theories and work more accessible to the general public, with a lot of humour infused into his writing. He has also written many children’s books with his daughter Lucy Hawking, further demonstrating his ability and passion to make the study of physics, mathematics, and cosmology more accessible and relatable to everyday people. As a math major, my personal favourite is God Created Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History (2006)!

As the world mourns the loss of such an incredible personality, we must also take the time to remember his important work and the legacy he left behind. As a STEM student, he was an especially important inspiration. Rest In Peace, Professor Hawking.

 

Bibliography

Picture Credits

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Shruthi Vaidyanathan is a Mathematics and Statistics student at the University of Toronto. When she's not cramming her readings or doing her problem sets, she's binge-watching Netflix shows and looking for songs to listen to during her ridiculously long daily commutes. 
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