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Stephen Hawking

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Stephen William Hawking

Stephen Hawking at NASA
Born Stephen William Hawking
(1942-01-08) 8 January 1942
Oxford, England
Residence England
Nationality British
Fields Applied mathematician
Theoretical physicist
Institutions University of Cambridge
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Alma mater University of Oxford
University of Cambridge
Doctoral advisor Dennis Sciama
Other academic advisors Robert Berman
Doctoral students Bruce Allen
Raphael Bousso
Fay Dowker
Malcolm Perry
Bernard Carr
Gary Gibbons
Harvey Reall
Don Page
Tim Prestidge
Raymond Laflamme
Julian Luttrell
Known for Black holes
Theoretical cosmology
Quantum gravity
Influences Dikran Tahta
Notable awards Prince of Asturias Award (1989)
Copley Medal (2006)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009)
Stephen William Hawking's signature

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestsellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Hawking's key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein-Hawking radiation). He is a world-renowned theoretical physicist whose scientific career spans over 40 years. His books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Science. On August 12, 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on October 1, 2009. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hawking has a neuro muscular dystrophy that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralyzed.

Early life and education

Stephen Hawking was born to Dr. Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary and an adopted brother, Edward. Though Hawking's parents were living in North London, they moved to Oxford while Isobel was pregnant with Stephen, desiring a safer location for the birth of their first child (London was under attack at the time by the Luftwaffe). According to Hawking, a German V-2 missile struck only a few streets away.

After Hawking was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research. In 1950, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire where he attended St Albans High School for Girls from 1950 to 1953. (At that time, boys could attend the Girls school until the age of 10.) From the age of 11, he attended St Albans School, where he was a good, but not exceptional, student. When asked later to name a teacher who had inspired him, Hawking named his Mathematics teacher, Dikran Tahta. He maintains his connection with the school, giving his name to one of the four houses and to an extracurricular science lecture series. He has visited to deliver one of the lectures and has also granted a lengthy interview to pupils working on the school magazine, The Albanian.

Hawking was always interested in science. He enrolled at University College, Oxford with the intent of studying mathematics, although his father would have preferred he go into medicine. Since mathematics was not offered at University College, Hawking instead chose physics. His interests during this time were in thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics. His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said in The New York Times Magazine:

It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it. [...] He didn't have very many books, and he didn't take notes. Of course, his mind was completely different from all of his contemporaries.

Hawking was passing, but his unimpressive study habits resulted in a final examination score on the borderline between first and second class honours, making an "oral examination" necessary. Berman said of the oral examination:

And of course the examiners then were intelligent enough to realize they were talking to someone far more clever than most of themselves.

After receiving his B.A. degree at Oxford University in 1962, he stayed to study astronomy. He decided to leave when he found that studying sunspots, which was all the observatory was equipped for, did not appeal to him and that he was more interested in theory than in observation. He left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he engaged in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology.

Career in theoretical physics

Almost as soon as he arrived at Cambridge, he started developing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known colloquially in the USA as Lou Gehrig's disease), a type of motor neuron disease which would cost him almost all neuromuscular control. During his first two years at Cambridge, he did not distinguish himself, but, after the disease had stabilized and with the help of his doctoral tutor, Dennis William Sciama, he returned to working on his Ph.D.

Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society in 1974, was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, and became a Companion of Honour in 1989. Hawking is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Hawking's achievements were made despite the increasing paralysis caused by the ALS. By 1974, he was unable to feed himself or get out of bed. His speech became slurred so that he could only be understood by people who knew him well. In 1985, he caught pneumonia and had to have a tracheotomy, which made him unable to speak at all. A Cambridge scientist built a device that enables Hawking to write onto a computer with small movements of his body, and then have a voice synthesizer speak what he has typed.

Research fields

Hawking's principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity.

Professor Stephen Hawking in Cambridge.

In the late 1960s, he and his Cambridge friend and colleague, Roger Penrose, applied a new, complex mathematical model they had created from Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. This led, in 1970, to Hawking proving the first of many singularity theorems; such theorems provide a set of sufficient conditions for the existence of a singularity in space-time. This work showed that, far from being mathematical curiosities which appear only in special cases, singularities are a fairly generic feature of general relativity.

He supplied a mathematical proof, along with Brandon Carter, Werner Israel and D. Robinson, of John Wheeler's " No-Hair Theorem" – namely, that any black hole is fully described by the three properties of mass, angular momentum, and electric charge.

Hawking also suggested that, upon analysis of gamma ray emissions, after the Big Bang, primordial mini black holes were formed. With Bardeen and Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. In 1974, he calculated that black holes should thermally create and emit subatomic particles, known today as Hawking radiation, until they exhaust their energy and evaporate.

In collaboration with Jim Hartle, Hawking developed a model in which the universe had no boundary in space-time, replacing the initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models with a region akin to the North pole: One cannot travel north of the North Pole, as there is no boundary there. While originally the no-boundary proposal predicted a closed universe, discussions with Neil Turok led to the realisation that the no-boundary proposal is also consistent with a universe which is not closed.

Hawking's many other scientific investigations have included the study of quantum cosmology, cosmic inflation, helium production in anisotropic Big Bang universes, large N cosmology, the density matrix of the universe, topology and structure of the universe, baby universes, Yang-Mills instantons and the S matrix, anti de Sitter space, quantum entanglement and entropy, the nature of space and time, including the arrow of time, spacetime foam, string theory, supergravity, Euclidean quantum gravity, the gravitational Hamiltonian, Brans-Dicke and Hoyle-Narlikar theories of gravitation, gravitational radiation, and wormholes.

At a George Washington University lecture in honour of NASA's 50th anniversary, Prof. Hawking theorised on the existence of extraterrestrial life, "primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare."

Losing an old bet

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and 15 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Aug. 12, 2009. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honour.

Hawking was in the news in July 2004 for presenting a new theory about black holes which goes against his own long-held belief about their behaviour, thus losing a bet he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill of Caltech. Classically, it can be shown that information crossing the event horizon of a black hole is lost to our universe, and that thus all black holes are identical beyond their mass, electrical charge and angular velocity (the " no hair theorem"). The problem with this theorem is that it implies the black hole will emit the same radiation regardless of what goes into it, and as a consequence that if a pure quantum state is thrown into a black hole, an "ordinary" mixed state will be returned. This runs counter to the rules of quantum mechanics and is known as the black hole information paradox.

Mankind's future in space

At the 50th Anniversary of NASA in 2008, Hawking gave a keynote speech on the final frontier exhorting and inspiring the space technology community on why we (the human race) explore space.

At the celebration of his 65th birthday on 8 January, 2007, Hawking announced his plan to take a zero-gravity flight in 2007 to prepare for a sub-orbital spaceflight in 2009 on Virgin Galactic's space service. Billionaire Richard Branson pledged to pay all expenses for the latter, costing an estimated £100,000. Stephen Hawking's zero-gravity flight in a " Vomit Comet" of Zero Gravity Corporation, during which he experienced weightlessness eight times, took place on 26 April 2007. He became the first quadriplegic to float in zero-gravity. This was the first time in 40 years that he moved freely, without his wheelchair. The fee is normally US$3,750 for 10–15 plunges, but Hawking was not required to pay the fee. A bit of a futurist, Hawking was quoted before the flight saying:

Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.

In an interview with the British newspaper Telegraph, he suggested that space was the Earth's long term hope. He continued this theme at a 2008 Charlie Rose interview.


Hawking on 5 May 2006, during the press conference at the Bibliothèque nationale de France to inaugurate the Laboratory of Astronomy and Particles in Paris and the French release of his work God Created the Integers.

Stephen Hawking is severely disabled by motor neuron disease, likely a variant of the disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). Most neuromuscular specialists believe he has Spinal Muscular Atrophy type IV. Hawking's illness is markedly different from typical ALS in the fact that his form of ALS would make for the most protracted case ever documented. A survival for more than 10 years after diagnosis is uncommon for ALS; the longest documented durations are 32 and 39 years and these cases were termed benign because of the lack of the typical progressive course.

When he was young, he enjoyed riding horses and playing with other children. At Oxford, he coxed a rowing team, which, he stated, helped relieve his immense boredom at the university. Symptoms of the disorder first appeared while he was enrolled at Cambridge; he lost his balance and fell down a flight of stairs, hitting his head. Worried that he would lose his genius, he took the Mensa test to verify that his intellectual abilities were intact. The diagnosis of motor neuron disease came when Hawking was 21, shortly before his first marriage, and doctors said he would not survive more than two or three years. Hawking gradually lost the use of his arms, legs, and voice, and is now (in 2009) almost completely paralysed.

During a visit to the research centre CERN in Geneva in 1985, Hawking contracted pneumonia, which in his condition was life-threatening as it further restricted his already limited respiratory capacity. He had an emergency tracheotomy, and as a result lost what remained of his ability to speak. He has since used an electronic voice synthesizer to communicate.

The DECtalk DTC01 voice synthesizer he uses, which has an American accent, is no longer being produced. Asked why he has still kept it after so many years, Hawking mentioned that he has not heard a voice he likes better and that he identifies with it. Hawking is said to be looking for a replacement since, aside from being obsolete, the synthesizer is both large and fragile by current standards. He is (as of mid 2009) said to be using NeoSpeech's VoiceText speech synthesizer.

In Hawking's many media appearances, he appears to speak fluently through his synthesizer, but in reality, it is a tedious drawn-out process. Hawking's setup uses a predictive text entry system, which requires only the first few characters in order to auto-complete the word, but as he is only able to use his cheek for data entry, constructing complete sentences takes time. His speeches are prepared in advance, but having a live conversation with him provides insight as to the complexity and work involved. During a Technology, Entertainment, & Design Conference talk, it took him seven minutes to answer a question.

He describes himself as lucky despite his disease. Its slow progression has allowed him time to make influential discoveries and has not hindered him from having, in his own words, "a very attractive family." When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a three-year life expectancy, she responded, "Those were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had a rather short life expectancy."

On 20 April 2009, Cambridge University released a statement saying that Hawking was "very ill" with a chest infection, and was admitted to Addenbrooke's Hospital. The following day, it was reported that his new condition is "comfortable" and he should make a full recovery from the infection.

In 2009, Investor's Business Daily (IBD) claimed in an editorial, "People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless." This caused widespread criticism, as Hawking does in fact live in the UK, and has received NHS treatment. Hawking personally replied that, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," he said. "I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived." Eventually, IBD issued a correction, but continued to defend the original editorial, calling the mention of Hawking a "bad example" and accusing those that mentioned their error of "chang[ing] the subject."

As popular science advocate

Hawking has played as himself on many television shows. For example, he has played himself on a Red Dwarf anniversary special, played a hologram of himself on the episode " Descent" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, appeared in a skit on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and appeared on the Discovery Channel special Alien Planet. He has also played himself in several episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama. When he was portrayed on episodes of Family Guy, the voice was actually done by a speech synthesizer on a Macintosh computer, according to DVD Commentary. He has also appeared in an episode of the Dilbert cartoon. His actual synthesizer voice was used on parts of the Pink Floyd song " Keep Talking" from the 1994 album The Division Bell, as well as on Turbonegro's "Intro: The Party Zone" on their 2005 album Party Animals, Wolfsheim's "Kein Zurück (Oliver Pinelli Mix)". As well as being fictionalised as nerdcore hip hop artist MC Hawking, he was impersonated in duet with Richard Cheese on a cover of " The Girl Is Mine". In 2008, Hawking was the subject of and featured in the documentary series Stephen Hawking, Master of the Universe for Channel 4. He was also portrayed in the movie " Superhero Movie" by Robert Joy and in Dark Angel TV Series as Logan's geek colleague. In September 2008, Hawking presided over the unveiling of the 'Chronophage' Corpus Clock (time eating) clock at Corpus Christi College Cambridge.

Religious views

Hawking takes an agnostic position on matters of religion. He has repeatedly used the word 'God' (in metaphorical meanings) to illustrate points made in his books and public speeches. Having been described as an atheist by various people, including his former wife Jane, Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."



On 19 December 2007, a statue of Professor Stephen Hawking by renowned late artist Ian Walters was unveiled at Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, Cambridge University. In May 2008 the statue of Hawking was unveiled at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town. The Stephen W. Hawking Science Museum in San Salvador, El Salvador is named in honour of Stephen Hawking, citing his scientific distinction and perseverance in dealing with adversity. Stephen Hawking Building in Cambridge, opened on 17 April 2007. The building belongs to Gonville and Caius College and is used as an undergraduate accommodation and conference facility. There is also a Stephen Hawking building in Winchester, at the Westgate school.


Hawking's belief that the lay person should have access to his work led him to write a series of popular science books in addition to his academic work. The first of these, A Brief History of Time, was published on 1 April 1988 by Hawking, his family and friends, and some leading physicists. It surprisingly became a best-seller and was followed by The Universe in a Nutshell (2001). Both books have remained highly popular all over the world. A collection of essays titled Black Holes and Baby Universes (1993) was also popular. His most recent book, A Briefer History of Time (2005), co-written by Leonard Mlodinow, aims to update his earlier works and make them accessible to an even wider audience. He and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, have recently published a children's book focusing on science that has been described to be "like Harry Potter, but without the magic." This book is called George's Secret Key to the Universe and includes information on Hawking radiation.

Hawking is also known for his wit; he is famous for his oft-made statement, "When I hear of Schrödinger's cat, I reach for my pistol." This was a deliberately ironic paraphrase of "Whenever I hear the word culture... I release the safety-catch of my Browning", from the play Schlageter (Act 1, Scene 1) by German playwright and Nazi Poet Laureate Hanns Johst. His wit has both entertained the non-specialist public and helped them to understand complex questions. Asked in October 2005 on the British daytime chat show Richard & Judy, to explain his assertion that the question "What came before the Big Bang?" was meaningless, he compared it to asking "What lies north of the North Pole?"

Hawking has generally avoided talking about politics at length, but he has appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party. He supports the children's charity SOS Children's Villages UK.

Awards and honours

  • 1975 Eddington Medal
  • 1976 Hughes Medal of the Royal Society
  • 1979 Albert Einstein Medal
  • 1982 Order of the British Empire (Commander)
  • 1985 Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 1986 Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
  • 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics
  • 1989 Prince of Asturias Awards in Concord
  • 1989 Companion of Honour
  • 1999 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society
  • 2003 Michelson Morley Award of Case Western Reserve University
  • 2006 Copley Medal of the Royal Society
  • 2008 Fonseca Price of the University of Santiago de Compostela
  • 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States

Personal life

Hawking revealed that he did not see much point in obtaining a doctorate if he were to die soon. Hawking later said that the real turning point was his 1965 marriage to Jane Wilde, a language student. After gaining his Trinity Hall, Stephen became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

Jane Hawking (née Wilde), Hawking's first wife, cared for him until 1991 when the couple separated, reportedly due to the pressures of fame and his increasing disability. They had three children: Robert (b. 1967), Lucy (b. 1969), and Timothy (b. 1979). Hawking then married his nurse, Elaine Mason (who was previously married to David Mason, the designer of the first version of Hawking's talking computer), in 1995. In October 2006, Hawking filed for divorce from his second wife.

In 1999, Jane Hawking published a memoir, Music to Move the Stars, detailing her own long-term relationship with a family friend whom she later married. Hawking's daughter, Lucy, is a novelist. Their oldest son, Robert, emigrated to the United States, married, and has one child, George Edward Hawking. Reportedly, Hawking and his first family were reconciled in 2007.

Selected publications


  • Singularities in Collapsing Stars and Expanding Universes with Dennis William Sciama, 1969 Comments on Astrophysics and Space Physics Vol 1 #1
  • The Nature of Space and Time with Roger Penrose, foreword by Michael Atiyah, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-691-05084-8
  • The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with George Ellis, 1973 ISBN 0521099064
  • The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind, (with Abner Shimony, Nancy Cartwright, and Roger Penrose), Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-521-56330-5 (hardback), ISBN 0-521-65538-2 (paperback), Canto edition: ISBN 0-521-78572-3
  • Information Loss in Black Holes, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  • God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History, Running Press, 2005 ISBN 0762419229


  • A Brief History of Time, (Bantam Press 1988) ISBN 055305340X
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, (Bantam Books 1993) ISBN 0553374117
  • The Universe in a Nutshell, (Bantam Press 2001) ISBN 055380202X
  • On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, (Running Press 2002) ISBN 076241698X
  • A Briefer History of Time, (Bantam Books 2005) ISBN 0553804367

Footnote: On Hawking's website, he denounces the unauthorised publication of The Theory of Everything and asks consumers to be aware that he was not involved in its creation.

Children's fiction

These are co-written with his daughter Lucy.

  • George's Secret Key to the Universe, (Random House, 2007) ISBN 9780385612708
  • George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt, (Simon & Schuster, 2009) ISBN 9781416986713

Films and series

  • A Brief History of Time
  • Stephen Hawking's Universe
  • Horizon: The Hawking Paradox
  • Masters of Science Fiction
  • Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe

A list of Hawking's publications through the year 2002 is available on his website.

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