7 things about Stephen Hawking you may have wondered about

Hawking held distinguished academic posts, was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire and received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. This while his body was deteriorating from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which theoretically should have killed him 40 years ago.

An average student


As with many geniuses, Hawking’s early academic career didn’t point to the megastar genius he was. Hawking says he only learnt to read properly when he was eight years old and his grades were average. His classmates did however nickname him “Einstein” as he built a computer with friends as a teenager. He also showed a huge capacity for grasping issues of space and time. In spite of this he dominated his Oxford entrance exams and received a scholarship to study physics at 17.

Diagnosed with ALS


Hawking was 21 years old when he was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, and was given two years to live. The disease causes the progressive degeneration and death of the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movements, such as chewing, walking, talking and breathing. The early onset of the disease was probably a blessing in disguise as those diagnosed earlier tend to have a slower-progressing form of the disease. About his disease Hawking said: “By losing the finer dexterity of my hands, I was forced to travel through the universe in my mind and try to visualize the ways in which it worked.”

The paradigm shifting equation

Image result for stephen hawking equation


This formula, which involves the speed of light (c), Newton’s constant (G) and other symbols measures emissions from black holes known as Hawking radiation. In 1974 Hawking merged quantum theory, general relativity and thermodynamics into one simple but elegant formula. This discovery set him on the path to stardom. Hawking said he would like this equation to be carved on his tombstone.

The tracheotomy operation

In 1985 Hawking almost died from pneumonia. He was unconscious and on a ventilator when doctors considered removing him from life support. His then-wife, Jane, refused. Hawking instead underwent a tracheotomy, that helped him breathe but took away his ability to speak. This led to the invention of his speech synthesizer.

The speech synthesizer

Hawking explains how his speech synthesizer works.

The prolific writer

Hawking believed he could write a book about the mysteries of the universe that would connect with the layman. He rigorously proceeded with the task using his speech synthesizer and with the help of students. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time ended up on the London Sunday Times best-seller list for 237 weeks after its publication in 1988. He went on to write his biography and several other books about his field as well as a series of science-themed novels, co-written with his daughter, Lucy.

A sense of humour “as vast as the universe”

Despite his severe physical challenges, Hawking appeared on several television shows. He first appeared as himself on a 1993 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, cracking jokes while playing poker with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He also featured on the animated shows The Simpsons and Futurama, as well as on the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory. On a more serious note, Hawking returned to his grassroots topics of cosmology and the origins of the universe for his six-part 1997 miniseries Stephen Hawking’s Universe. He also provided severe and sobering descriptions of his life for the 2013 documentary Hawking.

Caxton Central

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