Science & Technology

A Beautiful Mind

The English scientist, Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, died peacefully at his home in the early hours of 14 March 2018 at the age of 76 “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said. “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world.” Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, said: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit.”

A BEAUTIFUL MIND - Stephen Hawking
 Stephen Hawking

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942. He grew up in and around London and began his university education in 1959 at the age of 17 at University College, Oxford where he studied physics. After graduating, he was in his first year of research work at Cambridge university when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that selectively affects motor neurons, the cells that control voluntary muscles of the body. He was just 21 years old. In his 2013 memoir “My Brief History” he related how he was first diagnosed: “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. Ravaged by the wasting disease, Hawking was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. As his condition worsened, he had to speak through a voice synthesizer.

Hawking was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009 and achieved commercial success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general.

Hawking’s rise to international fame began with the publication in 1988 of “A Brief History of Time”, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass audience appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. “In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.” Hawking worked extensively on the two cornerstones of modern physics – Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which concerns gravity and large-scale phenomena, and quantum theory, which covers subatomic particles. As a result of that research, Hawking proposed a model of the universe based on two concepts of time: “real time”, or time as human beings experience it, and quantum theory’s “imaginary time”, on which the world may really run. “Imaginary time may sound like science fiction … but it is a genuine scientific concept,” he wrote in a lecture paper. Another major area of his research was into black holes, the regions of space-time where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.

Hawking became so popular that he appeared as himself on the television show “Star Trek: Next Generation” and his cartoon caricature appeared on “The Simpsons”. He narrated a segment of the opening ceremony of the London Paralympic Games in August 2012, the year he turned 70. A 2014 film, “The Theory of Everything”, with Eddie Redmayne playing Hawking, charted the onset of his illness and his early life as a brilliant student. “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet,” Redmayne said. In Cambridge, Hawking’s university college Gonville and Caius flew its flag at half-mast. “At Caius he will always be ‘Stephen’ – the man whose wicked sense of humor enlivened high table dinners and saw him spinning uproariously around hall in his wheelchair to the strains of a waltz at a college party,” Caius said in a tribute.

He married undergraduate Jane Wilde in July 1965 and the couple had Robert, Lucy and Timothy. But Hawking tells in his memoir how Wilde became more and more depressed as her husband’s condition worsened. “She was worried I was going to die soon and wanted someone who would give her and the children support and marry her when I was gone,” he wrote. He divorced Wilde in 1990 and in 1995 married one of his nurses Elaine Mason, whose ex-husband David had designed the electronic voice synthesizer that allowed him to communicate. They divorced in 2007.

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