Astronomy

Scientist Profiles Stephen Hawking



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Steven Hawking is one of the most renowned names in science. He has 12 honorary degrees and has received many awards, prizes and medals. Though stricken with amyotrophic lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, he went on to have an illustrious career as a cosmologist and teacher, authoring many books on the formation of the universe.

Early Years

Steven Hawing was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, the first child of Frank Hawking, a medical researcher, and Isobel Hawking, one of the first women to attend Oxford College. Steven Hawking also had 2 sisters and an adopted brother. The family was considered eccentric. They would often eat dinner, each with his nose in a book. They kept bees in their basement. They made fireworks in the greenhouse. They lived in a large fixer-upper house that never quite got fixed.

Education

In his elementary and secondary schools, Steven Hawking’s performance was uneven, but by his college years at Oxford, he found his focus and did well in his study of physics and cosmology. His choice of field disappointed his father, who wanted him to study medicine. In 1962, he went on to Cambridge to work on a PhD in cosmology.

Illness

His physical problems began at Oxford, when he began to trip or slur his speech periodically. He ignored the symptoms until he got to Cambridge where he was ultimately diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As control over his body diminished, Hawking applied himself with even greater fervor to his studies.  By 1969, he was confined to a wheelchair. The family hired one of his students to help with his care. By 1985, he had become unable to speak, and this condition began to impair his ability to work. A California computer programmer came to his assistance with a device that allowed Hawking to speak through a computer, giving him the “computer voice” that is he is known for, and allowing him to continue to write.

Personal Life

In 1963, before he was diagnosed with ALS, Hawking met his future wife Jane Wilde. They were married in 1965. The Hawkings have 3 children and 3 grandchildren

Scientific Career

Hawking became a member of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge in 1968. He published his first book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time in 1975. It was Hawking who was able to demonstrate that black holes weren’t the information vacuums previously thought. This discovery made him a media celebrity. In 1988, his book, A Brief History of Time, became an international best-seller. Hawking was given the opportunity to experience zero-gravity at the Kennedy Space Center in 2007, at the age of 65. 

Steven Hawking has been instrumental in helping ordinary people to understand the complex concepts that make up our universe. His knowledge and ability to communicate effectively despite his handicap has made him a cultural icon that millions admire.

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