Prominent scientist Stephen Hawking dies at 76

Prominent scientist Stephen Hawking dies at 76

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Prominent scientist Stephen Hawking dies at 67
The Gaza Post|The News of Palestine-Cambridge

The Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died early Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

His death was confirmed by a spokesman for Cambridge University.

“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview.

Dr. Hawking did that largely through his book “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” published in 1988. It has sold more than 10 million copies and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris.

The 2014 film about his life, “The Theory of Everything,” was nominated for several Academy Awards and Eddie Redmayne, who played Dr. Hawking, won the Oscar for best actor.

Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on Jan. 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day, he liked to point out, after the death of Galileo, who had begun the study of gravity.

His mother, the former Isobel Walker, had gone to Oxford to avoid the bombs that fell nightly during the Blitz of London. His father, Frank Hawking, was a prominent research biologist.

The oldest of four children, Stephen was a mediocre student at St. Albans School in London, though his innate brilliance was recognized by some classmates and teachers.

Later, at University College, Oxford, he found his studies in mathematics and physics so easy that he rarely consulted a book or took notes. He got by with a thousand hours of work in three years, or one hour a day, he estimated. “Nothing seemed worth making an effort for,” he said.

The only subject he found exciting was cosmology because, he said, it dealt with “the big question: Where did the universe come from?

Stephen W. Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on Jan. 8, 1942.

At 21, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was told he had less than three years to live.

He was a renowned Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who visited every continent and married twice, fathering three children.

He produced some of the most important cosmological research of his time about gravity and the properties of black holes.

Upon graduation, he moved to Cambridge. Before he could begin his research, however, he was stricken by what his research adviser, Dr. Sciama, came to call “that terrible thing.”

The young Hawking had been experiencing occasional weakness and falling spells for several years. Shortly after his 21st birthday, in 1963, doctors told him that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. They gave him less than three years to live.

His first response was severe depression. He dreamed he was going to be executed, he said. Then, against all odds, the disease appeared to stabilize. Though he was slowly losing control of his muscles, he was still able to walk short distances and perform simple tasks, though laboriously, like dressing and undressing. He felt a new sense of purpose.

“When you are faced with the possibility of an early death,” he recalled, “it makes you realize that life is worth living and that there are a lot of things you want to do.”

In 1965, he married Jane Wilde, a student of linguistics. Now, by his own account, he not only had “something to live for”; he also had to find a job, which gave him an incentive to work seriously toward his doctorate.

His illness, however, had robbed him of the ability to write down the long chains of equations that are the tools of the cosmologist’s trade. Characteristically, he turned this handicap into a strength, gathering his energies for daring leaps of thought, which, in his later years, he often left for others to codify in proper mathematical language.

In 1990, Dr. Hawking and his wife separated after 25 years of marriage; Jane Hawking wrote about their years together in two books, “Music to Move the Stars: A Life With Stephen Hawking” and “Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen.” The latter became the basis of the 2014 movie “The Theory of Everything.”

In 1995, he married Elaine Mason, a nurse who had cared for him since his bout of pneumonia. She had been married to David Mason, the engineer who had attached Dr. Hawking’s speech synthesizer to his wheelchair.

In 2004, British newspapers reported that the Cambridge police were investigating allegations that Elaine had abused Dr. Hawking, but no charges were filed, and Dr. Hawking denied the accusations. They agreed to divorce in 2006.

Among his many honors, Dr. Hawking was named a commander of the British Empire in 1982. In the summer of 2012, he had a star role in the opening of the Paralympics Games in London. The only thing lacking was the Nobel Prize, and his explanation for this was characteristically pithy: “The Nobel is given only for theoretical work that has been confirmed by observation. It is very, very difficult to observe the things I have worked on.”

Dr. Hawking was a strong advocate of space exploration, saying it was essential to the long-term survival of the human race. “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of,” he told an audience in Hong Kong in 2007.

Nothing raised as much furor, however, as his increasingly scathing remarks about religion. One attraction of the no-boundary proposal for Dr. Hawking was that there was no need to appeal to anything outside the universe, like God, to explain how it began.

In “A Brief History of Time,” he had referred to the “mind of God,” but in “The Grand Design,” a 2011 book he wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, he was more bleak about religion. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper,” he wrote, referring to the British term for a firecracker fuse, “and set the universe going.”

He went further in an interview that year in The Guardian, saying: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

He was a great supporter of human rights and justice for the occupied people of Palestine. And he supported the moves for the oppressed Palestinians towards their freedom and dignity.

Source: nytimes

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