I would like to talk about the loss of a personal hero. Unlike most of the people I find exemplary, Professor Hawking never carried a rifle or participated in any kind of action. Nonetheless, he was one of the bravest people to be written down in history. Against all odds, not only did he survive much longer than anyone could ever have hoped, he excelled academically and also managed to expand our understanding of the physical world.
He was born on January 8th 1942 in Oxford to Frank and Isobel Hawking, who studied medicine, and Philosophy, Politics and Economics in the University of Oxford. He too began his studies at Oxford, where he received his BA in natural science. He went on to obtain a PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge. His focus was the study of black holes and the circumstances of the Big Bang.
At the same time, from his final year in Oxford, he started experiencing his first mobility issues. He became clumsy and his speech was slurred. At the age of 21 he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given a life expectancy of two years. He considered quitting, but eventually went on to complete his thesis on the application of spacetime singularity to the whole universe. Although soon enough he was unable to move unassisted, he won an Adams Prize for his essay “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time”.
One of Hawking’s greatest achievements was redefining our understanding of time. Asserting that time itself was created at the moment of the Big Bang, he established time as a quantity, much like pressure, changing fundamentally what we know about how the universe came into being.
Hawking also showed that black holes should radiate away energy, the so-called Hawking radiation, and eventually evaporate. Although the radiation has not yet been observed, his study of the black holes has revolutionized the way we see quantum mechanics in relation to gravity and large-object physics.
At the same time, he became known for his popularized science publications, as well as documentary and even sit-com appearances.
The image of the bespectacled scientist in the wheeling chair and with the robot voice became recognizable for people outside the science field. He appeared on the screen to answer questions that have captivated human imagination, such as how the universe came to be and what could have been before there was even time, and the same time he urged us to stay curious and keep searching.
There is much to be said about Stephen Hawking; an accomplished scientist, an esteemed popularizer, a symbol of human perseverance, an advocate for disabled people. But the best way to sum this eulogy up is in his own words:
Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder 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.”
Thank you Professor Hawking.
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
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