Stephen Hawking is perhaps the geekiest geek who ever geeked. He has got the eye glasses, and (literally, Oxford) button down collars. He doesn’t box, or play Rugby, and his love of math, physics and astronomy is legend. Hawking has written bestsellers, made news about Black Holes, developed the theory of Hawking Radiation, urged the species to commit to space colonization, very seriously investigated time travel, and has sent out warnings to humanity about extraterrestrials. And, most of this, he has done from a wheelchair.
But also, less known by most people, Hawking was once quite the dancer and an athlete. At Oxford University he was on the rowing team, but that all changed when he was diagnosed with ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Already a student at Oxford, where he entered at the precocious age of seventeen in 1958, Hawking chose to use his brilliant mind to solve some of the greatest mysteries of the Cosmos, rather than to let it atrophy with self pity into obscurity. Born in Cambridge, England, Stephen Hawking came from a bright and determined family. As a teen, the youngster, along with some friends built a fully functional computer from stray bits of collected junk. The Hawking home was known to house bees in the basement, and, reputedly, explosives in the green house. From this eccentric household, his mother Isobel was among the first women ever to enlist at Oxford University, and his father, Frank Hawking, was a gifted researcher of tropical diseases.
After graduating with honors at Oxford, Stephen Hawking began his PhD in Cosmology at Cambridge in 1962. His illness may have slowed down his physical activity and speech, but never his mind. For example, ALS did not slow down the young man who married despite the ALS, in the mid 1960s, and had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy. He also is not a stranger to celebrity gossip, having married three times (twice to Jane Wilde). He has lived a rock star life many rock stars would envy. He has starred on many shows, in movies, and most recently attended in August 2012 a talk on animal consciousness. He has also been an enthusiastic guinea pig for cutting edge techies who helped develop his voice activated synthesizer. He has experienced low gravity on a specially equipped 727 over the Atlantic, and is still making plans to travel to the outside edge of earth for any available space tourism opportunities.
Yet, his personal life pales, in comparison to his starry ambitions in Academia and physics. Admitted to Royal Society at age 32, Hawking soon after earned the Albert Einstein award., the gold medal for science from Pope Paul VI, and he has held teaching posts at Cambridge, Gonville & Caius College and Cal Tech. At Cambridge, he was posted as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a post once held by Isaac Newton. . His drive and intellect has helped associates toward discovery of the Holy Grail .of science, a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) When found, the single unifying theory will show how the cosmically large is related to quantum mechanics, the tiny structures within atoms. The greatest minds of the nineteenth through twentieth century have struggled to find one unifying equation, including James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein.
Stephen Hawking is of course a great inspiration to scientists, people with disabilities, and everyday folks who continue to enjoy his innate ability to make science and the whole of the Universe accessible to all people of earth. He has made it clear that a mind, even faced with physical challenges for everyday tasks, can take on the mapping of the cosmos and even forge a pathway to the stars.