Stephen Hawking Passes Away at 76


Dr. Stephen W. Hawking, taken from wccftech

On March 14th, a Cambridge official announced and confirmed the death of Dr. Stephen W. Hawking, a Cambridge professor, physicist, and author. Hawking was 76 years old and said to have died peacefully in his home in Cambridge, England.

Stephen Hawking is often regarded by scientists as one of his generation’s leaders in the study of gravity and the properties of black holes, and his work is often credited as causing a turning point in the study and understanding of modern physics.

Born January 8th, 1942 in Oxford, England, Hawking was the oldest of the four children born to Isobel Walker and Frank Hawking. Stephen liked to point out that his birth was 300 years to the day that Galileo, the man who originally began the study of gravity, died.

Despite being a mediocre student in his time at St. Albans school in London, Hawking’s genius mind was recognized by both his peers and teachers. He managed to get into Oxford University to study mathematics and physics.

Hawking’s reported that he found his work easy, so easy in fact that he didn’t need to take notes or read for his classes. He spent about 1000 hours in total doing work for his classes over three years, averaging to about one hour a day. When asked why he seemed to not care about his classes, Hawking’s said, “Nothing seemed worth making an effort for.”

The one class that truly caught Hawking’s interest was cosmology, because it dealt with “the big question: Where did the universe come from?”

Hawking’s moved to Cambridge after graduating from Oxford. Before he had the chance to start his work, however, tragedy struck.

Stephen had been suffering from weakness and falling spells since he was little, and never seemed to think much of it. Doctors diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig’s disease is a neuromuscular wasting disease. Hawking was given 3 years to live, news that would send him into a deep depression, to the point where he would report dreaming of being executed.

Then a medical miracle happened. Hawking’s disease began to stabilize, increasing his life expectancy. Due to his ALS, Hawking could only flex a finger and voluntarily move his eyes.

Though ALS stopped most of his voluntary motor functions, Hawking’s brain was left perfectly intact. He went on to be one of the leading physicists of his generation. He got back to his work as soon as he was able. It was in 1973, almost 10 years after his ALS diagnosis, that Hawking’s set out to work on what would be his most famous discovery, and what would change the course of modern physics and science.

Hawking had set out to apply quantum theory, or the laws that govern subatomic reality, to black holes. He found that black holes weren’t black at all. Instead, he found that they would “fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear other the eons.” He published his findings in a 1974 issue of the journal Nature, in an article titled “Black Hole Explosions?”

His discovery, known as Hawking’s radiation, is hailed by scientists as one of the first major landmarks in finding a single theory of nature. Connecting two large concepts like gravity and quantum mechanics in order to try and explain a mostly unknown and unexplored universe was, and still is, a stranger concept than anyone could have ever thought. Even Hawking himself was skeptical of his findings. In a 1978 interview he stated, “I wasn’t looking for them at all, I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.”

Hawking’s work transformed black holes from destroyers to creators, or rather recyclers, in the world’s eyes.

His discoveries are just as engaging and eye-opening now as they were when they were first published. Edward Witten, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, stated, “Trying to understand Hawking’s discovery better has been a source of much fresh thinking for almost 40 years now, and we are probably still far from fully coming to grips with it. It still feels new.”

Stephen Hawking was one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, as well as an incredible example of disability-activism. Hawking rarely ever let his ALS diagnosis stop him. He spent his 60th birthday on a hot air balloon ride, and broke his leg that same week by going around a corner too fast while in Cambridge. He spent his 65th birthday on a zero-gravity flight.

In a more mundane point of view, Hawking was married twice and fathered three children. When asked why he takes the risks that he does, Hawking replied, “I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.”

The loss of a mind and a man like Dr. Stephen W. Hawking will be mourned throughout the world for a long while, though his legacy lives on forever. Both scientifically and in terms of views on disabilities, Stephen Hawking changed the world for the better.