Physicist Stephen Hawking dies at the age of 76 – family
Physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, a spokesman for his family has said
Stephen Hawking Speaks His Final Words To The World Before His Death
Stephen Hawking died Wednesday after complications due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. He was 76.
The world-renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist was best known for his work on black holes. Hawking theorized that, contrary to the prevailing scientific belief that black holes were inescapable for all forms of matter and energy, they actually emitted a form of radiation ― now known as Hawking radiation.
He also played a key role in the mathematical effort to unify Einstein’s general theory of relativity with the emergent field of quantum physics. Hawking used his position as one of the world’s most famous scientists as a platform to discuss a wide range of issues, from the existence of extraterrestrial life to the nature of philosophy.
He skyrocketed to public prominence in 1988, when he published his first general-audience book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. The cosmology treatise has sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling science books of all time. In 1963, when he was just 21 years old,
Hawking was famously diagnosed with the debilitating motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Though 80 percent of those with ALS die within five years of diagnosis, and Hawking’s own doctors gave him roughly two years to live, he survived for decades, perhaps longer than any other patient with the disease in medical history.
Hawking used a wheelchair to move around and a sophisticated computer system to speak for much of his time as a public figure. The physicist’s inspiring ― and turbulent ― personal story was dramatized in the 2014 movie “The Theory of Everything,” which was based on a memoir by Hawking’s first wife, Jane Wilde. Actor Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking in the film won him an Oscar for best actor. Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942 ― the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death ― in Oxford, England, to Frank, a physician specializing in tropical disease, and Isobel, a medical secretary. He and his three younger siblings grew up mostly in the town of St. Albans, just north of London, in what has been described as a highly intellectually-engaged home. At the St. Albans School,
Hawking was an indifferent student, preferring to spend his time playing board games and tinkering with computers. But he nonetheless gained admittance to his father’s alma mater, University College at Oxford University, in 1959, at the age of 17. Upon arriving at Oxford, Hawking toyed with the idea of studying either math or medicine before eventually settling on physics. His attitude toward academic work remained lackadaisical in college. He rarely attended lectures and has said that he spent only 1,000 hours on studies during his three years at Oxford, or just an hour a day. Still, Hawking’s natural brilliance started to shine through as an undergraduate ― and he apparently felt that his tutors resented him for doing so well with so little work.
When he submitted his final thesis, it was given a grade on the border between first-class honors and second-class honors, so Hawking had to face an oral exam that would determine his grade. Knowing his reputation, he reportedly told his examiners, “If you award me a First, I will go to Cambridge. If I receive a Second, I shall stay in Oxford, so I expect you will give me a First.” He got a First. And, as promised, Hawking enrolled in graduate school at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1962, studying under the physicist Dennis Sciama and the famed astronomer Fred Hoyle. He became interested in the then-nascent study of black holes and singularities, the existence of which had been implied by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
While studying at Cambridge, Hawking met Wilde, a fellow St. Albans native who was a student in modern languages at Westfield College in London at the time. Before the two started dating, Hawking collapsed while ice skating and couldn’t get up. His mother made him go to the doctor, who diagnosed him with ALS and estimated he had just over two years to live. Years later, during a symposium at Cambridge on his 70th birthday, Hawking reflected on how much he struggled to stay motivated after his diagnosis.
Why work so hard for a Ph.D. when you could be dead in two years? “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” he said. “Try to make sense of what you see and about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”