English 1301

Feb. 20th, 2004

Mr. Stephen Hawking wrote: “For thousand of years, people have wondered about the universe. Did it stretch out forever or was there a limit? And where did it all come from? Did the universe have a beginning, a moment of creation? Or had the universe existed forever?...All my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them…Personally, I’m sure that the universe began with a hot Big Bang…The expansion of the universe spreads everything out, but gravity tries to pull it all back together again…”

In the full name is Stephen William Hawking, born Jan. 8, 1942, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, and grew up in London. He attended St. Albans School and entered Oxford University in 1959. He studied mathematics and physics at the University. Upon graduating (B.A. degree) in 1962, he moved to Cambridge University to study theoretical astronomy and cosmology. It was at this time he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (an incurable degenerative neuromuscular disease), named for the American baseball player who died from it in 1941. As the disease worsened, Hawking was confined to a motorized wheelchair. In time, he was unable to write and barely able to speak. However, he proceeded to work on his doctorate and in 1965 married a fellow student, Jane Wilde. The marriage lasted until 1990. After receiving his doctorate in 1966, he remained at Cambridge as a member of the department of applied mathematics. He was appointed professor of gravitational physics in 1977 and Lucasian professor of mathematics (a chair previously held by Mr. Isaac Newton) in April 1980.

Hawking worked primarily in the field of general relativity and particularly on the physics of black holes. In the late 1960s, he proved that if general relativity is true and the universe is expanded, a singularity must have occurred at the birth of the universe. In 1971 he suggested the formation, following the big bang, of numerous objects containing as much as 1,000,000,000 tons of mass but occupying only the space of a proton. These objects, called mini black holes, are unique in that their immense mass and gravity require that they be ruled by the laws of relativity, while their minute size requires that the laws of quantum mechanics apply to them also. In 1974 Hawking proposed that, in accordance with the predictions of quantum theory, black holes emit subatomic particles until they exhaust their energy and finally explode. Hawking’s working spurred efforts to theoretically delineate the properties of black holes, objects about which it was previously thought that nothing could be known. His work showed these properties relationship to the laws of classical thermodynamics and quantum mechanics.

His publications include THE LARGE SCALE STRUCTURE OF SPACE-TIME (1973; coauthored with G.F.R. Ellis), SUPERSPACE AND SUPERGRAVITY (1981), THE VERY EARLY UNIVERSE (1983).

Hawking is one of the most admired and brilliant theoretical physicists of the 20th century, he became a widely known celebrity as well after his book A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME: from the Big Bang to black Holes unexpectedly became a bestseller in 1988 (a motion picture based on the book followed). The book spent more than four years on the London Sunday Times bestseller list- the longest run for any book in history. He followed it with a series of essays, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, in1993 and with The Universe in a Nutshell in 2001.