- Education and Science
Stephen Hawking (One Of The Greatest Scientists Of Modern Times)
Early Life And Education
People with great aspirations have to bear hurdles in their life but there are those who even don't have to go through tough times. Similarly, there are others who have the determination and courage to accomplish their mission no matter what comes in their way. Stephen William Hawking, one of the most famous scientists of present era, is undoubtedly, a role model not only for budding scientists but also for all those aspiring to become leaders in other fields. Hawking is a disabled person on a wheelchair, unable to move and cannot speak, yet he remains greatest researcher and scientist of quantum physics in human history. His determination and courage, despite his physical disabilities and shortcomings, has made him legendary.Born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942, he pushed the boundaries of science beyond human imagination, and gave several revolutionary theories in the field of physics. His parents migrated from London to Oxford where he was born when the English capital was under German attack during the Second World War. Hawking relocated to St Albans in Hertfordshire in 1950 and attended a local school. There, he was considered to be a great science enthusiast. His physics teacher, Robert Berman, once said, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done and he could do it... He didn't have many books, and he didn't take notes. Of course, his mind was completely different from all of his contemporaries."Hawking opted for physics, although he wanted to study mathematics which was not offered at University College. When making an oral examination, Berman said: "And of course, the examiners then were intelligent enough to realise they were talking to someone far cleverer than most of them" even though he was at the periphery of first and second class honours.After completing his Bachelor's from Oxford in 1962, he studied astronomy. But the lab work didn't appeal to him so he left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he studied theoretical astronomy and cosmology.Interestingly, he was never good at sports or physical activities. But things seemed to change when he went to Oxford where he started coxing and rowing. He was not meeting the boat race standard, but, nonetheless, participated in the inter collegiate competition.However, it was in his third year at Oxford when his health started deteriorating and it was discovered that he was suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS, (a type of motor neuron disease). Shortly after his 21st birthday, he was admitted to a hospital.Advised by doctors, he went back to Cambridge to carry on with his research in general relativity and cosmology.During the time that his research progressed, Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965. He applied for a research fellowship at Gonville and Ciaos College, Cambridge. The fellowship took care of his financial problems. While his reputation as a researcher enhanced, his health continued to suffer.However, his students always helped him in his sickness. Providing Hawking with free lodging, resulted in him giving them attention. He had pneumonia in 1985 and a tracheotomy operation in the same year. Before the operation, his speech was slurred and only a few people close to him could understand what he was saying. Hawking wrote scientific papers by dictating to a secretary and gave speeches at seminars through an interpreter.However, he was unable to speak after his tracheotomy operation. The only way he could communicate was to spell out words by raising his eyebrows when someone pointed out the right letter on a spelling card. It was quite difficult to carry on a conversation in this manner. This agonising situation was solved when a computer expert from California sent Hawking a program called an Equaliser. This allowed him to select words from a series of menus on the screen by pressing few buttons. A switch, operated by the head or eye movement, also controlled the program. After selecting the words he would send it to a speech synthesiser. At first, he just ran the Equaliser on a desktop computer. But later, David Mason of Cambridge Adaptive Communication fitted a small portable computer and a speech synthesiser in his wheelchair. This allowed him to communicate in a better way. With that device fitted to his wheelchair, he could manage up to 15 words a minute and can now either speak what he has written or save it to a disk.Using this system, he wrote a book, dozens of scientific papers and delivered lectures much more effectively. However, the voice synthesiser, which has an American accent, is a model that is no longer produced. Even though the system is now considered to be obsolete, Hawking has been unable to find an alternative software.
His Famous Works
Hawking has worked on the basic laws that govern the universe. His principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. In late '60s, Hawking was helped by his Cambridge friend, Roger Penrose, to propose a new mathematical model they created from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. With the help of this model, Hawking presented singularity theorems which provide a set of sufficient conditions for the existence of a singularity in space and time. With the help of Penrose, he also proved that Einstein's general theory of relativity implies that space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.
These results indicated that it was necessary to unify general relativity with the quantum theory; this is considered as the second great scientific development of the 20th century after the invention of computers.
This led Hawking to conclude that black holes are not completely black; actually they emit subatomic particles (Hawking radiation), until they completely exhaust their energy and then evaporate. Another result states that the universe has no boundary in imaginary time which implies that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science and whether or not it was a "cosmic accident", it was certainly planned by scientific principles.
Hawking also suggested that after the Big Bang, primordial or mini black holes were formed and also proposed the four Laws of Black hole Mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. In July 2004, he presented a new theory about black holes which goes against his own belief about their behaviour. Initially, according to the "No Hair Theorem", it was believed that the information crossing the event horizon of a black hole is lost on our universe. Thus, all black holes are identical beyond their mass, charge and angular velocity. But the results provided by this theorem violate the laws of quantum mechanics. For example, if this theorem is considered right, then it implies that the black hole will emit the same radiation regardless of the nature of whatever goes into it. Hence, if a pure quantum state is thrown into a black hole, an "ordinary" mixed state will result. This is known as the black hole information paradox.
Hawking had earlier proposed that the singularity of the centre of a black hole can form a passage to a "baby universe" from where lost information can pass into another galaxy (like Star Wars). However, at the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation, Hawking presented a new idea according to which black holes eventually transmit, in a garbled form, the information about all the matter they swallow.
Hawking believed that average person should have access to his work. This led him to write a series of popular science books in addition to his academic work. The first of these, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988. It was followed by The Universe in a Nutshell in 2001, which like its predecessor, turned out to be a best-seller. His other works include The Large Scale Structure of Space-time, The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind, Information Loss in Black Holes and a set of essays entitled Black Holes and Baby Universes.
His recent book, A Briefer History of Time (2005), not only aims to update his earlier works but also makes them accessible to a wider audience. Hawking recently announced that he plans to write a children's book focusing on science that has been described "like Harry Potter, but without the magic."
Not only a top scientist of modern era, Hawking is also known for his wit. His famous statement: "When I hear of Schrodinger's cat, I reach for my pistol", is a spin on words on the popular saying, "Whenever I hear the word culture...I release the safety catch of my Browning", from the German play Schlageter.
Despite his deteriorating health, Hawking considers himself lucky. According to him, slow progress of the disease has not only provided him time to make influential discoveries, but also gave him time to have "a very attractive family". Hawking's daughter, Lucy, is a novelist, while son Robert lives in the United States with his wife and son.
Asked on the British day-time chat show, Richard and Judy, to explain his assertion that the question, "What came before the Big Bang?" was meaningless, he compared it to asking "What lies north of the north pole?" Concerned about global warming, in an interview to China Daily, Hawking said he was afraid that Earth "might end up like Venus at 250°C, raining in sulphuric acid." According to him, to survive man must colonise other planets.
Awards And Achievements
Hawking has 12 honorary degrees and is a recipient of many awards, medals and prizes such as Albert Einstein Medal, Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, and Hughes Medal and Wolf Prize in Physics. He was awarded the Commander of the British Empire in 1982 and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences. Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society in 1974 and is a member of the board of sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.