Heroes of Space: Professor Stephen Hawking

We take a look at the life so far of one of the greatest physicists of the modern day.

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Hawking enjoyed a zero-gravity flight on NASA's 'Vomit Comet' in 2007.

Hawking enjoyed a zero-gravity flight on NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ in 2007.

Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England on 8 January 1942, although he moved to London with his family after World War II. Like many other notable scientists, including Albert Einstein, Hawking did not particularly excel at school in his early life and readily admitted that he did little work, often focusing instead on his own projects outside the classroom.

Eventually he settled down and went to Oxford University to study physics after finding out his preferred option of mathematics was unavailable. Later he undertook a PhD in Cosmology at Cambridge University and began his pioneering research that has seen him become one of the most respected names in theoretical cosmology.

Sadly, in his early-twenties, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and given just months to live. The disease gradually restricted his movement to the point that he can only move his eyes and one cheek today, while a bout of pneumonia in 1985 robbed him of his speech. He now speaks through a voice program controlled by his right cheek, which allows him to piece together sentences, paragraphs or even entire lectures.

Undeterred by his condition, however, Hawking has had a remarkable career and continues to defy the odds with regards to his life expectancy. After his PhD he worked on a groundbreaking theory with friend and colleague Sir Roger Penrose that concluded the universe was full of tiny black holes immediately after the Big Bang. Later, in 1974, he worked with Israeli theoretical physicist Jacob Bekenstein to show that black holes emit information and material in jets of radiation, known today as Bekenstein-Hawking radiation.

Obama awarded Hawking with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 12 August 2009.

Obama awarded Hawking with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 12 August 2009.

Hawking’s career is littered with numerous accolades and awards, including a CBE from the Queen of England and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, while he was also the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge from 1979 to 2009, a position dating back to 1663 that has been held by just 15 other people including Sir Isaac Newton.

He has also published a large number of books, including A Brief History of Time, which shot to the top of the best-sellers list in 1988 and stayed their for a record-breaking 237 weeks. More recently he published The Grand Design (2010) and presented Into The Universe (2010).

Hawking’s remarkable mind has seen him become one of the most well known figures in cosmology, and he continues to conduct research and give lectures to this day. His fascination with space extends to space exploration and he wants to visit space himself. After flying on a zero-gravity Boeing 727 in 2007, Hawking is now scheduled to journey into the cosmos aboard Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic when it eventually begins flights, a moment that will allow Hawking to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to space. While it might be just a short trip to space aboard Virgin Galactic, his continuing life’s work will be remembered long into the future.

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