British cosmologist Stephen William Hawking was born in England on Jan 8, 1942- 300 years to the day after the death of the astronomer Galileo Galilei. He attended University College, Oxford, where he studied physics, despite his father’s urging to focus on medicine. Hawking went on to Cambridge to research cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole. In early 1963, just shy of his 21st birthday, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He was not expected to live more than two years. Completing his doctorate did not appear likely, but Hawking defied the odds.
He attained his PhD in 1966 (Hawking made his PhD thesis available online in 2017) and he went on to forge new roads into the understanding of the universe in the decades since. As the disease spread, Hawking became less mobile and began using a wheelchair. Talking grew more challenging and, in 1985, an emergency tracheotomy caused his total loss of speech. A speech-generating device constructed at Cambridge, combined with a software program, served as his electronic voice, allowing Hawking to select his words by moving the muscles in his cheek.
Hawking continued at Cambridge after his graduation, serving as a research fellow and later as a professional fellow. In 1974, he was inducted into the Royal Society, a worldwide fellowship of scientists. In 1979, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, the most famous academic chair in the world (the second holder was Sir Isaac Newton, also a member of the Royal Society).
Working with fellow cosmologist Roger Penrose, he demonstrated that Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity suggests that space and time began at the birth of the universe and ends within black holes, which implies that Einstein’s theory and quantum theory must be united. Using the two theories together, Hawking also determined that black holes are not totally dark but instead emit radiation.
In 2014, Hawking revised his theory, even writing that ” there are no black holes” – at least, in the way that cosmologists traditionally understand them. His theory removed the existence of an “event horizon,” the point where nothing can escape. Instead, he proposed that there would be an “apparent horizon” that would alter according to quantum changes within the black hole. But the theory has proven to be controversial. Hawking also proposed that the universe itself has no boundary, much like the Earth. Although the planet is finite, one can travel around it (and through the universe) infinitely, never encountering a wall that would be described as the “end.”
Stephen Hawking dies at 76. A physicist and best-selling author, Dr. Hawking did not allow his physical limitations to hinder his quest to answer “the big question: Where did the universe come from?” His work led to a turning point in the history of modern physics.
Hawking was a popular writer. His first book, “A Brief History of Time” (10th-anniversary edition: Bantam, 1998) was first published in 1988 and became an international bestseller. In it, Hawking aimed to communicate questions about the birth and death of the universe to the layperson.