Several people are involved in unravelling mysteries of the universe through scientific research. But few have managed to transform the way we see the world around us with their work.
Born in 1942, Stephen Hawking was probably one of the most well known minds in history as he inspired the world with his courage as much as he did through his work. Audiences carefully listened to every word Hawking said, as the general public followed him as much as scientists.
Apart from this he was also a best-selling author as he discussed his own theories and cosmology in his works on popular science. ‘A Brief History of Time’ was one of his most well known books followed by ‘Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays’ and ‘The Universe in a Nutshell.’
But there’s more to the fascinating mind that the world came to know through Hawking’s theories and his distinct sense of humour.
1. Not so good with grades
Although he is known as a brilliant mind for his theories, Stephen Hawking was not particularly good when it came to grades. He ranked among the worst in his class when he was nine, and he couldn’t push his grades beyond average despite his efforts.
Meanwhile he was always interested in how things work and disassembled clocks as well as radios. His teachers and peers seemed to understand his intelligence despite low grades since Hawking was nicknamed Einstein.
2. Didn’t care about biology
Despite his love for science, Hawking wasn’t particularly fond of biology which he described as “too inexact, too descriptive”. He took a liking to mathematics from an early age but since Oxford didn’t have the subject as a major, Hawking majored in physics.
Even in physics he chose cosmology which studies the universe as a whole even though it was hardly recognised as a legitimate field back then. He preferred studying more precise and well-defined concepts.
3. Part of the Oxford rowing team
Long before he was diagnosed with a paralysing illness, Hawking joined the rowing team at Oxford. As a coxswain he was supposed to control the steering and stroke rate.
Being on the team made Stephen popular since rowing was an important sporting activity at Oxford. But it also affected his study habits causing him to use creative analysis for lab reports as he was occupied with practice.
4. Defying the odds
Stephen Hawking’s work has inspired a large number of people and he is also known for his courage. His family grew concerned as he showed signs of tripping and clumsiness ahead of turning 21.
Two weeks of tests at the hospital revealed that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was given only few years to live. The neurological disease causes people to lose control of voluntary muscles.
Despite being shocked, Hawking realised there were others worse off than him after seeing a boy succumb to leukaemia.
5. Showed that the universe has no boundaries
Hawking was also the first to come up with a theory of cosmology explained by union of quantum mechanics and the general theory of relativity. His work showed that while the universe is a contained entity, it doesn’t have boundaries.
He asked people to imagine the universe as the surface of the earth where people can go in any direction and never reach an edge or boundary where earth can be said to end. The only difference is that the earth’s surface is two dimensional while the universe is four dimensional.
6. Admitted to losing a bet on black holes
While he was one of the most brilliant minds, Stephen Hawkings was also a good sport who could admit when he was wrong. Back in 2004 he said he conceded a bet made in 1997 with theoretical physicist John Preskill who contested his conclusion about information being lost in a black hole.
7. Awards and distinctions
Hawkings was honoured with an impressive number of awards for his contribution as he was into the Royal Society in 1974. This was followed by the Pius XI Gold Medal for Science from Pope John Paul VI.
He also received the Albert Einstein Award and the Hughes Medal from the Royal Society. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, which is the highest civilian honour in the United States.
Meanwhile he never got the Nobel Prize despite receiving 12 honorary degrees in his lifetime.
8. Going beyond popular science
Known for his best-sellers where he discussed his theories and cosmology, Stephen Hawking has also co-authored a children’s book. He collaborated with his daughter Lucy in 2007 to write “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”.
The book tells the story of a boy who rebels against his parents who have an aversion to technology. It was meant to explain heavy scientific concepts like black holes to children which may explain Hawking’s desire to make his work more accessible.
9. Believed aliens may exist
Although he contributed through his work on cosmology, Stephen Hawking’s opinions about possibility of alien life also gained a lot of attention. He said that there may be primitive alien life in the universe given the vastness of its nature.
He even did an episode on the subject for “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking” that aired on the Discovery Channel.
10. A wider appeal
Apart from his theories, Hawking was also known for his humour as he made guest appearances on shows like “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek”. His life was also portrayed in an Academy Award nominated film titled ‘The Theory of Everything’ which was based on a memoir by his wife Jane Hawking.