The history of the universe is one of the most perplexing subjects of all time. For years, people have looked up to the stars and wondered; where does it end? Where do we come from? What of time travel? We have always watched science fiction movies on these subjects and wondered; can this be true? One man on the forefront of innovative ideas on time travel and the universe is Stephen hawking.
The scientific community takes Stephen Hawkins’ ideas very seriously. His theories on black holes, wormholes and time travel have made us think that anything is possible. He has given all of us a new way of thinking with his theories. He has also written books in an attempt to help non-scientists better understand his ideas.
What makes this man different from the thousands of other scientific geniuses? Why is his work so valued? In order to answer these questions we will have to look into what fellow scientists and friends have to say about him. We will look at his most important contributions according to other experts.
Stephen W. Hawking Stephen W. Hawking has a mind set that is beyond today’s general way thinking. His attempts to identify a grand unification theory that unites everything we know about the physical world and science far exceeds any realm of thinking that has ever graced this earth. Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. He spent most of his childhood in and around London, and was always a bit of a self-educator. He was interested in the stars, and his family used to lie out on the grass looking at the stars. His writing was appalling, and he was one of the only people at school to be issued with a copybook. He was never really good with his hands, and gave the impression of nervousness, being lanky and awkward in movement. (Evans, p.127) Stephen Hawking wanted to study mathematics and physics in a university, but his father believed that there would not be any jobs in mathematics and thus Hawking took physics and chemistry, and only a bit of math. Another reason he didn’t do mathematics is because when he attended University College, Oxford in 1959 they didn’t do mathematics. Hawking’s peers didn’t really realize how intelligent he was until his second year of University. They were assigned 13 honors questions in the area of Electricity and Magnetism, and while it took his friends Derek, Gordon and Richard a week to do 2 1/2 of them, Hawking did the first 10 in 3 hours. “Because he didn’t have time to finish the rest” (Hawking, ln. 71) was his reason for not completing all 13. He was a coxswain in the Boat Club, and was of course a member of the Boyle Society (the University College’s physics society). At one point during his time at the University, when Hawking fell down a flight of stairs, he totally f! orgot who he was for a few minutes, but eventually he remembered who he was, where he was, and what he did last week, last month, and last year. It took 2 hours for him to remember actually falling down the stairs. Shortly after this he took a Mensa test to see if he was still bright or not and got 200 or 250: so there was no permanent damage. In his 3rd year he began to notice that his hands were less useful than before. Hawking graduated from Oxford in 1962, at the age of 20, and took a trip to Persia with a friend. During the visit he got sick and after having tests shortly after returning and going up to Cambridge to do Graduate work, he was diagnosed with Amytropic lateral sclerosis also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease, or motor neuron disease as it is called in England. After being diagnosed with 2 1/2 years to live, Hawking decided to not start any research–believing that he was dying, he though he may not even finish his Ph.D. It was around this time that he met his future wife, Jane Wilde. (Scherniak, p.2 ln. 14) Hawking’s graduate thesis discussed what happens when a star burns off its fuel and collapses into a black hole. In 1965 he applied for and received a research fellowship at Caisus College, Cambridge and married Jane Wilde. They have 3 children: Robert, Lucy, and Timothy (born 1967, 1970 and 1979 respectively). Meeting Jane lifted Hawking out of his terminal-illness depression, and he started to work again. (Evans, p.132) Hawking’s research at Caisus College was to be done in theoretical physics (quantum physics or cosmology). He chose to do it in cosmology partly because he found elementary particles unattractive and because he wanted to study with Fred Hoyle, who was at Cambridge at the time (the most distinguished British astronomer of the time, and also a science fiction novelist). Hawking’s research centered on Black Holes, and from the late 60’s onward he has been in the forefront of Black Hole research. One discovery of Hawking’s is that Black Holes emit radiation. Based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, nothing can escape the event horizon of a Black Hole, but based on quantum mechanics, for every particle there is an antiparticle. These particles are created at the same time, go through an existence, and collide to annihilate each other. With respect to the Black Hole, one of these particles falls into the Hole, leaving the other outside of the event horizon, emitting radiation. This radiation has been coined as “Hawking Radiation.” (Evans, ln. 20-25) By 1974 Hawking could still feed himself and get into and out of bed, but his wife Jane was finding it harder to take care of him and the 3 children, so Hawking got one of his research students to live with them, to help Jane out. In 1975 Hawking received the Pius XII medal from Pope Paul VI, as ‘a young scientist for distinguished work’. There has been a long-standing conflict between the Catholic Church and cosmology, going back to Galileo. (McDonald, ln. 23) When they went to the Vatican, Hawking saw Galileo’s Recantation, the document of Galileo’s recanting on his theory that the earth went around the sun, supposedly under the pressure of the church. Hawking has a great affinity for Galileo, as he was born 300 years to the day after Galileo’s death. In 1975 Hawking was elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics once held by Isaac Newton. There is a big book that everyone who holds this title are supposed to sign. After a year as Lucasian Professor they realized that ! Hawking never signed it, so he did. That was the last time he ever signed his name. In 1981 Hawking was in the Vatican attending a conference in cosmology. When granted an audience with the Pope, Hawking was told that it was OK to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang but to not inquire about the Big Bang itself, as it was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God. Hawking’s lecture at the conference was on the possibility that space-time was finite without boundary (ie, no beginning, no end, no creation). Obviously the Pope wasn’t at the conference. In 1986 Hawking met with the Pope again, when he was admitted to the Pontifical Academy of Science. In 1982, faced with the fees of his daughter’s schooling, Hawking decided to write his most famous book A Brief History of Time. While in Switzerland, after he finished a first draft of the book, he developed pneumonia and had to undergo a lifesaving tracheostomy, which removed his ability to speak. (McDonald, ln. 32) He soon after started using the Perspex Device, which is basically a sheet of Plexiglas with letters on it such that when he looks at a letter you can see which one he’s looking at. Conversing letter-by-letter is tedious, and he moved onto a computer program that allowed him to pick words from a series of menus, accompanied by a voice synthesizer attached to his chair. He can speak up to 15 words a minute, and can save them on disk if he wants. The only bug in the program, he feels, is that it gives him an American accent. (AAYA, p.60) A Brief History of Time was meant to explain the basic ideas of laws that govern the universe. Hawking said that “Equations are necessary if you are doing accountancy, but they are the boring part of Mathematics. (McDonald, ln. 11) Most of the interesting ideas can be conveyed by words or pictures”. The book was published on April Fool’s Day, 1988–6 years after he started writing it. Since then it has been translated into 30 languages, and has sold about 5.5 million copies. A film has also been made, as well as A Brief History of Time: A Readers Companion (“the book of the film of the book”). Hawking is also a Fellow of the Royal Society. He attended the induction of Prince Charles into the Royal Society a year or two after his own induction, at which time he ran over Prince Charles’ toe with his wheelchair! Hawking believes that he is no different than anyone else. He believes that science is for everybody, not just a few scientists. If ever there is a complete theory of the universe, he believes that it should be understandable by everyone and discussed by everyone. “If we find the answer to that (a complete theory of the universe), it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.” -Stephen Hawking.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol 13. p 60-65 (Mar. 1989). Evans, J. C. “The Physics Man”. Physics & Astronomy Department, George Mason University (10 Jan. 1992). Hawking, Stephen W. An Autobiography of Mine. URL: http://www.cambridge.edu.uk/Physicsdept/Research/Personnel/hawkingsw.html (2 Jan. 1995). MacDonald, Derek Bruce “A Hypertext Biography of Stephen Hawking”. URL: http://www.oxford.edu.uk/hawkingbio (5 Dec. 1994). Scherniak, David “Transcripts–Stephen Hawking”. URL: http://www.myna.com/~davidck/hawking.htm (Nov. 1989).