Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.
Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009. He is now Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestsellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.
Hawking's key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein–Hawking radiation).
Hawking has a motor neurone disease that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.
Early life and education
Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 to Dr. Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward. Though Hawking's parents were living in North London, they moved to Oxford while his mother was pregnant with Stephen, desiring a safer location for the birth of their first child. (London was under attack at the time by the Luftwaffe.) According to Hawking, a German V-2 missile struck only a few streets away.
After Hawking was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research. In 1950, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire, where he attended St Albans High School for Girls from 1950 to 1953. (At that time, boys could attend the Girls' school until the age of ten.) From the age of eleven, he attended St Albans School, where he was a good, but not exceptional, student. When asked later to name a teacher who had inspired him, Hawking named his mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta. He maintains his connection with the school, giving his name to one of the four houses and to an extracurricular science lecture series. He has visited it to deliver one of the lectures and has also granted a lengthy interview to pupils working on the school magazine, The Albanian.
Hawking was always interested in science. Inspired by his mathematics teacher, he originally wanted to study the subject at university. However, Hawking's father wanted him to apply to University College, Oxford, where his father had attended. As University College did not have a mathematics fellow at that time, it would not accept applications from students who wished to read that discipline. Hawking therefore applied to read natural sciences, in which he gained a scholarship. Once at University College, Hawking specialised in physics. His interests during this time were in thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics. His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said in The New York Times Magazine:
It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it. [...] He didn't have very many books, and he didn't take notes. Of course, his mind was completely different from all of his contemporaries.
Hawking was passing, but his unimpressive study habits resulted in a final examination score on the borderline between first and second class honours, making an "oral examination" necessary. Berman said of the oral examination:
And of course the examiners then were intelligent enough to realize they were talking to someone far more clever than most of themselves.
After receiving his B.A. degree at Oxford in 1962, he stayed to study astronomy. He decided to leave when he found that studying sunspots, which was all the observatory was equipped for, did not appeal to him and that he was more interested in theory than in observation. He left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he engaged in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology.
Career in theoretical physics
Almost as soon as he arrived at Cambridge, he started developing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, known colloquially in the United States as Lou Gehrig's disease), a type of motor neurone disease which would cost him almost all neuromuscular control. During his first two years at Cambridge, he did not distinguish himself, but, after the disease had stabilised and with the help of his doctoral tutor, Dennis William Sciama, he returned to working on his Ph.D.
Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society in 1974, was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, and became a Companion of Honour in 1989. Hawking is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
In 1974, he accepted the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to work with his friend, Kip Thorne, who was a faculty member there. He continues to have ties with Caltech, spending a month each year there after 1992.
Hawking's achievements were made despite the increasing paralysis caused by the ALS. By 1974, he was unable to feed himself or get out of bed. His speech became slurred so that he could be understood only by people who knew him well. In 1985, he caught pneumonia and had to have a tracheotomy, which made him unable to speak at all. A Cambridge scientist built a device that enables Hawking to write onto a computer with small movements of his body, and then have a voice synthesizer speak .
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