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Celebrating the Life of Stephen Hawking

Mar 14 2018 Read 1141 Times

14th March 2018 will go down as a dark day for science, with the death of Stephen Hawking aged 76. The renowned theoretical physicist became a key figure in cosmology through a career spanning over five decades. Read on as we look at the life, achievements and legacy of one of science’s brightest stars.

The early years

As a student, Hawking was lively, hilarious and fiercely intelligent. But it wasn’t long before motor neurone disease began to take its course at the age of 21. Fortunately, he managed to far outlive the expectations of two years, surviving for over fifty years beyond diagnosis.

His disease led him to crutches and eventually a wheelchair, with his speech later deteriorating. Fortunately, he was helped by a range of improving devices and programs to replace his speech. Firstly by choosing phrases, words and letters with a hand-operated switch and later using movements of his cheek muscles when he lost the use of his hand in 2005.

Scientific achievements

Throughout the 1960s, Hawking continued to do what he loved – explore the complexities of the universe and why it exists. It wasn’t long before his first major breakthrough in 1970, when his work with Roger Penrose applied mathematics of black holes to the universe, demonstrating that a singular region of infinite curvature in spacetime existed in the distant past. In layperson’s terms – this was the point from which the big bang originated.

From here, Stephen Hawking went on a run of impressive discoveries, changing the way people viewed the universe. He built up a collection of positions to match too – becoming a member of the Royal Society at just 32 and Lucasian professor of Mathematics at Cambridge at 37.

Hawking’s legacy

Among Hawking’s list of achievements were the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Copley Medal, Wolf Prize in Physics, Albert Einstein Medal, Albert Einstein Award, Adams Prize and countless other scientific accolades. Politically, he was a lifelong supporter of the Labour party, passionately believing in a well-funded public National Health Service. He wasn’t one to shy away from popular culture either, appearing in a number of episodes of the Simpsons and the Big Bang Theory.

And in 1988, he made his entry into the Guinness Book of Records with A Brief History of Time. Hawking’s popular-science book for non-specialist readers was translated into 40 different languages, selling ten million copies. It stayed on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for a massive 237 weeks.

Hawking manages to cover everything from the big bang to black holes – as the name of his bestseller denotes – while maintaining a non-technical style of writing that, for want of a better phrase, manages to blow readers’ minds. It’s exactly that that made him one of the most popular figures throughout the world of science and beyond.

To celebrate his legacy, here are four of his best quotes:

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all”

“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road”

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special”

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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