On March 14, Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientific minds of our time, passed away.
Born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s birth, whom he greatly admired, Hawking died on the very day Albert Einstein was born.
This forever connects three men of science that had revolutionary ideas of nature.
His famous book "A Brief History of Time," a New York Times bestseller, transformed the Cambridge professor into something of a star.
Hawking was born in Oxford, England in 1942. Raised in Highgate (near London) at the height of World War II, his family moved to Oxford because the historic city was safe from the war.
At the age of 17, Hawking, as an undergraduate at Oxford University, acquired strong skills in mathematics and physics. He found the undergraduate work so easy that he estimated to have studied for 1,000 hours in three years at Oxford. Post-graduation, with first-class BA Hons, he packed for Trinity College in Cambridge for his doctoral work.
The '60s were the renaissance period for Einstein’s theory of gravity — general relativity. There was a “big debate” in physics at that time whether the universe was static — steady state theory — or if it had a beginning —Big Bang theory. Hawking was a proponent of the latter.
Collaborating with British physicist Roger Penrose, Hawking proposed the “singularity theorem” that stated that the universe started from a singular point, now known as the Big Bang. This idea was revolutionary, and it settled the debate about the origin of the universe, much like Darwin did with the origin of life.
Another noteworthy contribution of Hawking came when he implied the consequence of bringing quantum mechanics and general relativity near extremely curved spacetime structures such as a black hole.
You see, pair particles of matter and anti-matter are produced and annihilated constantly, borrowing energy from space-time, popping out of nowhere and annihilating. Hawking realized that a pair produced near an event horizon of a black hole could be separated faster before they could annihilate.
When this occurs, conservation laws are broken because the borrowed energy is not returned through annihilation. As a consequence of broken conservation laws, black holes radiate in a form called the Hawking radiation. In other words, a black hole evaporates over time. This came as a shock to cosmologists in 1974.
Another implication was that an event horizon of a black hole can never decrease. This is due to the second law of thermodynamics that states the entropy always increases, another marvel milestone in black hole physics.
Hawking proposed various ideas of physics, sometimes noteworthy, sometimes debatable in the scientific community. He was well-known for betting with people like Nobel Laureate Kip Throne and theoretical physicist John Preskill for if the particle physicists would find the Higgs Boson at the LHC or the outcome of black hole information paradox.
He lost the bets most of the time.
Diagnosed with motor-neuron disease at 21 and given two years to live, Hawking lived for another 55 years.
Hawking will remain one of the most influential figures of modern science.
He had frequent references in popular culture: "The Simpsons," "Star Trek," his portrayal in Hollywood film "The Theory of Everything" and his famous book "The Grand Design."
Hawking’s legacy is long-lasting and one that people could find comfort in with charisma, alongside very British humor.
“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” - Professor Stephen W. Hawking