Stephen Hawking
Relativistic Cosmologist
by Hector Atom Posadas
University of the Philippines Integrated School

"If we find the answer to a complete theory of the universe, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God."

These are the words of Stephen William Hawking, considered to be one of the smartest people in the world, if not the smartest. He is a world-famous scientist and author, but few know what he has actually done.

He is a relativistic cosmologist. He studies the universe as a whole with the use of the theory of relativity. Before, cosmology was only a pseudo-science and general relativity was an impossibly complicated theory. All this has changed with the expanse of observations made possible with new technology. There has also been significant progress in the theoretical side where Hawking has made great contributions.

Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford. Growing up, he was always a "self-educator". He studied in the University College of Oxford, where he took up physics, chemistry, and some math. His instructors and fellow students knew he had superior intelligence when, at a time, there was a difficult assignment given out. He finished 10 out of the 13 questions in three hours while his classmates did only one or two over a week.

He is afflicted with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or motor neuron disease. This disease is incurable and fatal. He was diagnosed with the disease in 1962, and was given only two years to live. At first, he was in despair, and he did not want to start his research at Cambridge. To make things worse, he was informed that he would not have the famous cosmologist Fred Hoyle as his research adviser.

However, all these misfortunes did not stop him. His luck began to change when he met a young woman named Jane Wilde. She was very helpful to Hawking, and in 1965, they got married. Furthermore, the Cambridge Physics Department assigned Dennis Sciama as his research adviser. Sciama was an intelligent and inspiring man, and he was sympathetic to Hawking.

Hawking's research was centered on black holes. He discovered that black holes radiate like thermodynamic bodies. This radiation is now called the Hawking Radiation. He also discovered that black holes possess a temperature proportional to their surface gravity and an entropy proportional to their surface area.

Another major contribution of Stephen Hawking to cosmology is the Theory of the Big Bang. Using general relativity, he and his companion Roger Penrose showed that time began with a singularity at the Big Bang and thus the Universe existed at one time in a hot and highly dense state. He also presented a model for the early Universe called the No Boundary Proposal which predicts density variations in the early Universe due to quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. This means that space-time is finite without boundary, thus there is no beginning and no end; no moment of creation.

Hawking has received many awards and titles. In 1975, he received the Pope Pius XI medal as a young scientist for distinguished work. He was also elected as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a title once held by Sir Isaac Newton. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1982, Hawking started to write his book "A Brief History of Time". This phenomenal bestseller explained the basic ideas of laws that govern the Universe. It was published on the April of 1988, and since then, it has sold about 5.5 million copies, and has been translated into 30 languages. A film on the book has also been made.

Today, Hawking is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak or write. He speaks via a computer accompanied by a voice synthesizer attached to his wheelchair. Despite these misfortunes, he still considers himself lucky. He is happy with his life and his family. Nothing could have prevented his success - not even ALS.


References:
Intelligentsia Index