Born in: Oxford
Education: Ph.D. (Cambridge)
Career: Theoretical Physicist
Stephen Hawking is British theoretical physicist, who presently serves as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He has been conducting research in fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, since many years. He is known throughout the world, for his contributions in context of black holes. During his career, which spans over more than 40 years, he has put forward numerous theories and also written a number of books, with the aim of helping the common man understand science. Hawking is disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Stephen Hawking was born as ‘Stephen William Hawking’, on 8th January 1942, in Oxford. He is the son of Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking. The eldest of the three children of his parents, he had two sisters - Philippa and Mary. Along with that, he also had an adopted brother, Edward. Hawking’s parents had a home in North London. However, because of London being under attack by the Luftwaffe, they moved to Oxford, a much safer location, while Isobel was pregnant with Stephen.
Following the birth of Stephen, Hawking family moved back to its home in North London. In London, Frank headed the division of parasitology, at the National Institute for Medical Research. Hawking and his family moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire, in 1950, when he was around 8 years old. There, he attended St Albans High School for Girls, between 1950 and 1953. The reason was this was the fact that during that time, boys were educated at Girls school till the age of 10. After he became 11 years old, Hawking started attending St Albans School.
Through his schooling, Hawking was a good, but not exceptionally brilliant, student. However, he always displayed an interest in science. After passing high school, he enrolled himself at University College, Oxford, and chose physics as his subject, since mathematic was not offered. During that time, Hawking showed interest in thermodynamics, relativity and quantum mechanics. He received his B.A. degree from Oxford University, in the year 1962, after which he enrolled for studying astronomy.
Since Oxford had an observatory equipped only for studying sunspots and he was more interested in the theoretical aspects, Hawking decided to leave the university. Instead, he joined Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he engaged in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology. Soon after, he started developing symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It was only after his disease stabilized that Hawking returned to working on his Ph.D., with the help of his doctoral tutor, Dennis William Sciama.
After getting his PhD, Hawking became first, a Research Fellow, and later, held the post of a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. In 1974, Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society. Eight years down the line, in 1982, he was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In the year 1989, he became a Companion of Honour. Presently, he is serving as a member of the ‘Board of Sponsors’ of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity are the main fields in which Hawking conducts research. The first breakthrough came in the late 1960s, when he and his Cambridge friend and colleague, Roger Penrose, applied a new and intricate mathematical model, the one they had derived using the general theory of relativity, of Albert Einstein. This particular breakthrough helped him in proving the first of many singularity theorems, in 1970. In fact, with this, he proved that singularities are a quite generic feature of general relativity.
Hawking worked with Brandon Carter, Werner Israel and D. Robinson to prove that any black hole is completely described by the three properties - mass, angular momentum and electric charge, supplying a mathematical proof for the same. He also put forward the theory that primordial or mini black holes were formed after the Big Bang, mainly after analyzing gamma ray emissions. He also proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, along with Bardeen and Carter, after drawing a similarity with thermodynamics.
In 1974, Hawking suggested that black holes thermally create and emit subatomic particles till the time they exhaust their energy and evaporate. Later, the subatomic particles were given the name of Hawking radiation. His collaboration with Jim Hartle resulted in the creation of a model, as per which Universe had no boundary in space-time. Originally, this no-boundary model predicted a closed Universe. However, discussions with Neil Turok led to the conclusion that the model was consistent with a Universe which is not closed.
The other scientific investigations of Hawking include the study of: Quantum Cosmology, Cosmic Inflation, Helium Production In Anisotropic Big Bang Universes, Large N Cosmology, Density Matrix Of the Universe, Topology and Structure of the Universe, Baby Universes, Yang-Mills Instantons and the S Matrix; Anti De Sitter Space, Quantum Entanglement and Entropy; the Nature Of Space And Time, Including The Arrow Of Time; Spacetime Foam, String Theory, Supergravity, Euclidean Quantum Gravity, the Gravitational Hamiltonian; Brans-Dicke and Hoyle-Narlikar Theories Of Gravitation; Gravitational Radiation, and Wormholes.
On 8th January 2007, during his 65th birthday celebrations, Hawking announced that he planned to go on a zero-gravity flight. He intended to do this as a preparation for a sub-orbital spaceflight in 2009, on Virgin Galactic’s space service. On 26th April 2007, he went on a zero-gravity flight in a "Vomit Comet" of Zero Gravity Corporation. During the flight, he experienced weightlessness eight times. With this, Hawking became the first quadriplegic to float free in a weightless state. It was also first time in 40 years that he moved freely beyond the limits of his wheelchair. He was not charged any fee for the flight.
Hawking’s first marriage was with Jane Wilde, a language student. The couple had three children and stayed together till 1991. The main reasons for separation were the increasing disability of Hawking, along with the pressures of his fame. In 1995, he married his nurse, Elaine Mason, the ex-wife of David Mason, designer of the first version of Hawking’s talking computer. In October 2006, he filed for divorce. Hawking’s daughter Lucy Hawking is a novelist. His son, Robert Hawking immigrated to the United States. He is married and also has a child, George Edward Hawking.
Awards and Honors
- 1975 - Eddington Medal
- 1976 - Hughes Medal of the Royal Society
- 1979 - Albert Einstein Medal
- 1982 - Order of the British Empire (Commander)
- 1985 - Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
- 1986 - Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
- 1988 - Wolf Prize in Physics
- 1989 - Prince of Asturias Awards in Concord
- 1989 - Companion of Honour
- 1999 - Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society
- 2003 - Michelson Morley Award of Case Western Reserve University
- 2006 - Copley Medal of the Royal Society