Physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76: A Brief History of (his) Time

Stephen Hawking deathI’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. Stephen Hawking, one of the biggest stars of modern science, had once said this. On Wednesday, Hawking passed away, aged 76. His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday, confirming his death at his home in Cambridge. As reported by British media, Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love. We will miss him for ever.” The renowned and highly respected Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author among other designations. Hawking’s masterpeice The Brief History of Time, one of the icononic books of the 20th century, talks of mysteries of space, time and black holes. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explained how the prospect of an early death urged him through numerous intellectual breakthroughs. Born on January 8, 1942, the famous theoretical physicist suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was confined to an electric wheelchair for much of his adult life. Diagnosed at age 21, he was one of the world’s longest survivors of ALS. The illness left him wheelchair-bound and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser. A Cambridge University professor, Hawking was the first propound a theory of cosmology explained through a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He also showed that the universe had a beginning by describing how Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity eventually breaks down when time and space are traced back to the Big Bang and end in black holes. Hawking’s work was also the subject of the 2014 film The Theory Of Everything, which starred Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Hawking’s works In 1963, Hawking contracted motor neurone disease and was given two years to live. Yet he went on to Cambridge to become a researcher and Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. From 1979 to 2009 he held the post of Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663. Among many of his famous works and theories, the most celebrated work is the Brief History Of Time, with the more accessible sequel The Universe in a Nutshell updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe. A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988, earned him worldwide acclaim, selling at least 10 million copies in 40 languages and staying on the best-seller list of the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper for a record 237 weeks. The book included only one equation: E = mc2, or the equivalence of mass and energy, deduced by Einstein from his theory of special relativity. The book outlined the basics of cosmology for the general reader. However, as Hawking’s fame increased, his health deteriorated. After his degenerative muscle disorder was diagnosed, he defied medical opinion by living five decades longer than expected. He communicated his ideas through an American-accented speech synthesiser after a life-saving tracheotomy in 1985 took away his ability to speak. A ‘Nobel’ impact Throughout his life, Hawking recieved several awards and recignition for his work. He received the 2015 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences shared with Viatcheslav Mukhanov for discovering that the galaxies were formed from quantum fluctuations in the early Universe. At the 2016 Pride of Britain Awards, Hawking received the lifetime achievement award “for his contribution to science and British culture”. For him, a Nobel Prize remained elusive. His theories required observational data to win the praise of the awarding committee in Stockholm. The Nobel Foundation excludes posthumous nominees.

Source: Business Standard