The British Physicist
Stephen Hawking brings
light to black holes,
cosmology and quantum
gravity with his remarkable
theories and popular works.
He combines family life, and
his research into theoretical
physics together with an
extensive programme of
travel and public lectures.
Stephen Hawking, one of the globe’s best-known scientists experienced eight rounds of weightlessness on 26 April 2007 in a specially modified Boeing 727 jet just three months after the celebration of his 65th birthday on January 8, 2007. Hawking took eight turns with ease and described the Zero-G flight as the first step towards a trip in space. This expedition is to prepare for a sub-orbital space flight in 2009 on Virgin Galactic’s space service.
Hawking is severely disabled by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a type of motor neuron disease. When he was young, he enjoyed riding horses and playing with the other children. At Oxford, he coxed a rowing team, which, he stated, helped relieve his immense boredom at the university. Diagnosis of his disease came when Hawking was 21, shortly before his first marriage, and doctors said he would not survive more than two or three years.
He gradually lost the control of his arms, legs, and voice, and is now wheelchair bound. The computer system attached to his wheelchair is operated by Hawking via an infra-red ‘blink switch’ clipped onto his glasses. By scrunching his right cheek up, he is able to talk, compose speeches, research papers, browse the World Wide Web, and write e-mails. The system also uses radio transmission to provide control over doors in his home and office.
Professor Stephen William Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England, which is exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo. From a very early age Hawking showed the qualities of a scientist, he was always inquisitive. He liked to build models to see how things worked.
Hawking’s father who was a doctor, wanted him to study medicine at Oxford. However, he was more interested in Mathematics. It turned out that he studied Physics, as the University College did not provide degree studies in Mathematics. Hawking was awarded a first class honors degree in Natural Science after 3 years of studies.
At the age of 20, Hawking went on to do research in Cosmology at Cambridge. This was also about the time when he was diagnosed with the incurable disease ALS. He was losing control of his muscles. and was told he would die soon . At first, Hawking was shocked and upset. He could not find a reason for living before he met his wife Jane Wilde. Later the progress of his illness slowed down, and he finished his Ph.D.
He took the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics since 1979.
Hawking’s principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. He has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the big bang and an end in black holes. Hawking suggested that, upon analysis of gamma ray emissions, after the big bang, many objects as heavy as 109 tons the size of a proton would be created. With Bardeen and Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. In 1974, he calculated that black holes should thermally create and emit subatomic particles, known as Hawking radiation, until they exhaust their energy and evaporate.
In collaboration with Jim Hartle, Hawking developed a model in which the Universe had no boundary in space-time, replacing the initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models with a region akin to the North pole; while one cannot travel North of the North pole, there is no boundary there. While originally the no-boundary proposal predicted a closed Universe, discussions with Neil Turok led to the realization that the no-boundary proposal is consistent with a Universe which is not closed also.
His many publications include The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G F R Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W Israel, and 300 Years of Gravity, with W Israel. Stephen Hawking has two popular books published; his best seller A Brief History of Time, and his later book, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.
Professor Hawking has twelve honorary degrees, was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes and is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Hawking receives a new computer every 18-24 months donated by Intel. The most recent computer was donated in April of 2005 and is based on the Centrino chipset. It consists of two pieces, a rear chassis which houses 3 160Whr batteries and various external peripherals, and a front chassis, which houses a Tablet-PC and the speakers which project his hardware-synthesized voice. The two chassis are connected via a custom-designed umbilical cable which allows power and electrical signals to travel back and forth. Hawking’s computer can run for up to 16 hours without needing a recharge.
The computer utilizes a wireless data card that runs on mobile phone networks. This allows Hawking to check his email and browse the web while away from a wireless LAN network. Hawking can also make and receive voice phone calls via a mobile phone with an external microphone in front of his computer speakers.
Despite his disease, he describes himself as “lucky” — not only has the slow progress of his disease provided time to make influential discoveries, it has also afforded time to have, in his own words, “a very attractive family”. When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a 3-year life expectancy, she responded: “These were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had a rather short life expectancy.”