Friday, 29 April 2016

Who is Stephen Hawking? - Biography - Quotes

When we think of leading figures in the history of science, many names come to mind. Einstein, Newton, Kepler, Galileo – all great theorists and thinkers who made an indelible mark during their lifetime. Oftentimes, the full extent of these contributions would not be recognized until after their death. But those of us that are living today are fortunate to have an excellent scientist among us who has made significant contributions, and is still alive and kicking – Dr. Stephen Hawking.

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Considered by many to be the “ Einstein” that is modern, Hawking’s work in cosmology and theoretical physics is unmatched among his contemporaries. Along with his work on quantum mechanics and gravitational singularities, he's also responsible for discovering that black holes emit radiation. In addition to that, Hawking is a cultural icon, supporting countless causes, appearing on many television shows and penning several publications that have made science accessible to a wider audience.

Early Life

Hawking was born on January 8th, 1942 (the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. His parents, Frank and Isobel Hawking, were both students at Oxford University, where Frank studied Isobel and medicine studied economics, politics and philosophy. Give birth to their own child in safety and the couple originally lived in Highgate, a suburb of London, but moved to Oxford to escape from the bombings during the Second World War. The two would carry on to have Philippa, two daughters and Mary, and one adopted son, Edward.

The family moved again in 1950, this time to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, because Stephen’s dad became the head of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research (now part of the Francis Crick Institute). The family developed the reputation for being highly intelligent, if somewhat bizarre, while there. They lived frugally, living in a big, cluttered and poorly maintained house, driving around in a converted taxicab, and always reading (even at the dinner table).


While in St. Albans, the eight-year old Hawking attended St. Albans High School for Girls for a few months (which was allowed at the time for younger boys). In September of 1952, he was enrolled at Radlett School for a year, but would remain at St. Albans for the majority of his teen years due the family’s fiscal constraints.

While there, Hawking made many friends, with whom he played board games, manufactured fireworks, model airplanes and boats, and had long discussions with on subjects ranging from religion to extrasensory perception. From 1958, and with the help of the mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta, Hawking and his friends built a computer.

Though he wasn't initially academically successfully, Hawking showed significant aptitude for scientific subjects and was nicknamed “Einstein”. Inspired by his teacher Tahta, he decided to study mathematics at university. His father had expected that his son would attend Oxford and study medicine, but since it was impossible to study math there at enough time, Hawking chose to study chemistry and physics.

In 1959, when he was just 17, the Oxford entrance exam was taken by Hawking and was granted a scholarship. He was bored and lonely, owing to the fact which he was younger than his peers and found the work “ridiculously simple”. Hawking made greater efforts to bond and developed into a popular student, acquiring a curiosity about science fiction and classical music and joining the Oxford Boat Club.

When it came time for his final exam, Hawking’s functionality was lackluster. Rather than answering all the questions, he decided to focus on theoretical physics questions and prevented any that demanded factual knowledge. The result was a score that put him on the borderline between first- and second-class honors.

Concerned that he was viewed as a student that was challenging and lazy, Hawking described his future strategies as follows during the viva: “If you give me a First, I shall go to Cambridge. If I receive a Second, I 'll stay in Oxford, therefore I expect you'll give me a First.” Nonetheless, Hawking was held in higher respect than he believed, and received a first-class BA (Hons.) Degree, so enabling him to pursue graduate work at Cambridge University in October 1962.

Hawking experienced some initial problem during his first year of doctoral studies. He found his background in math inadequate for work in general relativity and cosmology, and was assigned Dennis William Sciama (one of the founders of modern cosmology) as his supervisor, rather than noted astronomer Fred Hoyle (whom he were hoping for).

During his final year at Oxford, he had experienced an accident where he fell down a flight of stairs, and also started experiencing difficulties when rowing and episodes of slurred speech. When the diagnosis came in 1963, he felt there was little point in continuing his studies and fell into a state of depression.

Nonetheless, as the disease progressed more slowly compared to the doctors had predicted – initially his prognosis soon transformed, he was given two years to live. Then, with the encouragement of Sciama, he returned to his work, and rapidly acquired a reputation for brashness and brilliance. This was shown when he openly challenged the work of known astronomer Fred Hoyle, who was famous for rejecting the Big Bang theory, in June of 1964 at a lecture.

Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde on their big day, July 14, 1966. Credit:
July 14, 1966, Jane and Stephen Hawking Wilde on their big day. Credit:
There was much disagreement in the physics community about the prevailing theories of the formation of the universe: the Big Bang and the Steady State theories, when Hawking began his graduate studies. In the former, the universe was imagined in a gigantic explosion, in which all matter in the known universe is made. New matter is constantly created as the universe expands. Hawking promptly joined the debate.

Hawking became inspired by Roger Penrose’s theorem that the spacetime singularity – a point where the amounts used to measure the gravitational field of a celestial body become limitless – exists at the center of a black hole. Hawking wrote his 1965 thesis on the subject, and applied the same thinking to the entire universe. He got his PhD degree in cosmology and went on to receive a research fellowship.

It was also during this time that his first wife, Jane Wilde was met by Hawking. Though he and she had met just before his diagnosis with ALS, their relationship continued to develop as he returned to complete his studies. The two became engaged in October of 1964 and were wed on July 14th, 1966. Hawking would later say that he was given “ something to live for” by his relationship with Wilde.

Scientific Accomplishments

In his doctoral thesis, which he wrote in collaboration Hawking expanded the existence of singularities to the notion that the universe might have began as a singularity. Their combined essay – entitled, “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time” – was the runner-up in shared top honors and the 1968 Gravity Research Foundation competition with one by Penrose to win Cambridge prestigious Adams Prize for that year.

It was during this time that Penrose and he released a proof that included the theories of the physical cosmology and General Relativity.

Based on Einstein’s equations, Freidmann maintained that the universe transformed and was dynamic in size over time. He also asserted that space-time had geometry, which can be based on its total mass/energy density. If equal to the critical density, the universe has zero curvature (i.e. flat configuration); if it's less than critical, the universe has negative curvature (open shape); and if greater than critical, the universe has a positive curvature (closed configuration)

According to the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorem, if the universe actually obeyed the models of general relativity, then it must have begun as a singularity. This basically meant that, as a point of infinite density that included all of space-time and the mass of the universe, before quantum changes caused it to quickly expand, the entire universe existed prior to the Big Bang.

Its total mass/energy density determines per the Friedmann equations, the geometry of the universe. If less than critical, the universe has negative curvature (open layout). If greater than crucial, the universe has positive curvature (closed shape). Picture credit: NASA/GSFC
Its overall mass/energy density determines the geometry of the universe, per the Friedmann equations, and can have negative, either level, or positive curvature. Credit: NASA/GSFC
Additionally in 1970, Hawking postulated what became known as the second law of black hole dynamics.

Stephen Hawking IQ - 154

These four laws said that – for a stationary black hole, the horizon has constant surface gravity; for perturbations of stationary black holes, the change of energy is linked to change of area, angular momentum, and electric charge; the horizon region is, assuming the weak energy condition, a non-decreasing function of time; and that it is extremely hard to form a black hole with vanishing surface gravity.

This essay won Hawking the Gravity Research Foundation Award in January of that year.

Hawking ’s first novel, which he composed during his post doc studies with George Ellis, was published. Titled, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, the book describes the nature of its limitless expansion and the foundation of space, using differential geometry to examine the results of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

Hawking was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1974, a few weeks after the announcement of Hawking radiation (see below). In 1975, he returned to Cambridge and was given a fresh place as Reader, which is earmarked with a distinguished international reputation in scholarship or research for senior professors.

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