The genius that was Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)


Stephen William Hawking, comsologist, theoretical physicist and author, died last week. He was 76.

Mr Hawking began life in a family that lived frugally. He married twice and had three children, Lucy, Robert and Timothy. Due to his deteriorating condition he required increasing home care. Hawking was well regarded by some colleagues but others felt alienated by his perceived brashness.

In 1963, he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given two years to live. However the doctors charged with looking after him, found that it was progressing significantly more slowly than expected. Mr Hawking first started to become more clumsy in his physical activities, which lead to him seeking medical advice. Then as it progressed he was slowly confined to a wheel chair despite his fiercely independent nature. His body continue shutting down as his muscles were slowly overtaken by the disease. That was not enough to stop him, as he continued to travel, continued to research whilst effectively confined to a specialised wheelchair that could be driven by a cheek muscle.

His discoveries in physics and cosmology are considerable. A short bullet point summation of the major ones are below:

  • Mr Hawking and another physicist, Jakob Bekenstein discovered that black holes can emit radiation
  • The second law of black holes is that they have entropy, with Mr Hawking reasoning that entropy does not exist then mass can be thrown into a black hole
  • The idea that no boundary or physical limit to the universe exists

Mr Hawking was an atheist, whereas his first wife Jane is a Christian and this sparked tension, but also made Mr Hawking review whether a possible Creator exists. Much of Mr Hawking’s cosmological research, as well as his philosophical views are built around this.

Even as Mr Hawking’s body slowly succumbed to the ravages of his condition, his mind continued to work full bore. He had argued that the Higgs Boson does not exist, which when found in 2012, Mr Hawking immediately conceded to Peter Higgs, who theorized in 1964 that it did and insist on him winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, which Mr Higgs did in 2013.

So it is with sadness I note Mr Hawking’s departure. Cosmology is much the poorer for his passing, but so is physics as a scientific field. Whilst they not human, I cannot help but wonder if the black holes of the Universe feel sad for the demise of one man who perhaps more than anyone else in recent times, tried to understand them.

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