Stephen Hawking

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Stephen Hawking
NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking, 1999
NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking, 1999
Born 8 January 1942 (1942-01-08) (age 67)
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
Fay Dowker
Malcolm Perry
Bernard Carr
Gary Gibbons
Raymond Laflamme
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)
Stephen Hawking's signature

Stephen William Hawking CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA, PhD (born 8 January 1942) is a British theoretical physicist. Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (but intends to retire from this post in 2009),[1] a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and the distinguished research chair at Waterloo's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[2] 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 bestseller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.[3] Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.

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).[4] His scientific career spans over 40 years and his books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity and world-renowned theoretical physicist. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts,[5] and a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Science.[6]



Stephen Hawking was born to Dr. Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking, a political activist.[citation needed]. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary and an adopted brother, Edward.[7] 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).[8] According to one of Hawking's publications, a German Wehrmacht V-2 missile struck only a few streets away.[9]

After Stephen was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research.[7]

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.[10]) From the age of 11, he attended St Albans School, where he was a good, but not an exceptional, student.[7] When asked later to name a teacher who had inspired him, Hawking named his Mathematics teacher, "Mr Tahta" (Dikran Tahta).[11] 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.[7] 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.[7]

Hawking was passing with his fellow students, but his unimpressive study habits gave him 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.[7]

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.[7] He left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he engaged in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology.

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.[7] He 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.[7] After gaining his Ph.D., Stephen became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

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 speak what he has written with a voice synthesizer.[12]

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 married his nurse, Elaine Mason (who was also the previous wife of David Mason, designer of the first version of Hawking's talking computer), in 1995. In October 2006, Hawking filed for divorce from his second wife.[13]

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.[14]

At the celebration of his 65th birthday on 8 January 2007, Hawking announced his plans for 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.[15] 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.[16] 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,[17] 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.[18]

Research fields

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

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.[19] 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.[20]

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 or 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.[21]

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."[22]

Losing an old bet

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.

Hawking had earlier speculated that the singularity at the centre of a black hole could form a bridge to a "baby universe", a term coined by Canadian Astrophysicist Chad Bryden, into which the lost information could pass; such theories have been very popular in science fiction. But according to Hawking's new idea, presented at the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation, on 21 July 2004 in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, black holes eventually transmit, in a garbled form, information about all matter they swallow:

The Euclidean path integral over all topologically trivial metrics can be done by time slicing and so is unitary when analytically continued to the Lorentzian. On the other hand, the path integral over all topologically non-trivial metrics is asymptotically independent of the initial state. Thus the total path integral is unitary and information is not lost in the formation and evaporation of black holes. The way the information gets out seems to be that a true event horizon never forms, just an apparent horizon.[23]

Having concluded that information is conserved, Hawking conceded his bet in Preskill's favour, awarding him Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia. Thorne, however, remained unconvinced of Hawking's proof and declined to contribute to the award.[24] Another older bet – about the existence of black holes – was described by Hawking as an "insurance policy" of sorts. To quote from his book, A Brief History of Time:

This was a form of insurance policy for me. I have done a lot of work on black holes, and it would all be wasted if it turned out that black holes do not exist. But in that case, I would have the consolation of winning my bet, which would win me four years of the magazine Private Eye. If black holes do exist, Kip will get one year of Penthouse. When we made the bet in 1975, we were 80% certain that Cygnus was a black hole. By now, I would say that we are about 95% certain, but the bet has yet to be settled.

—Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988)[3]

According to the updated 10th anniversary's edition of A Brief History of Time, Hawking has conceded the bet "to the outrage of Kip's liberated wife" due to subsequent observational data in favour of black holes.


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.

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.

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.[25] 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 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 later standards.

In Hawking's many media appearances he appears to speak fluently through his synthesizer but, in reality, creating the text is a tedious drawn-out process. Hawking's setup uses a predictive text entry system, which only requires 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 in his responses. During a TED talk, a posed question took 7 minutes to answer.[26]

He describes himself as "lucky" despite his disease[27]. Its slow progression has allowed him time to make influential discoveries and it has not hindered him from having, in his own words, "a very attractive family".[28] When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a 3-year life expectancy, she responded: "Those were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had a rather short life expectancy."

Media appearances

Hawking has appeared 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.[29] 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 name is mentioned in the song "White & Nerdy" by "Weird Al" Yankovic. His actual synthesiser 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.[30] In 2008, Hawking was featured in a commercial for Discovery Channel.[citation needed]



On 19 December 2007, a unique statue of Professor Stephen Hawking by renowned late artist Ian Walters was unveiled at Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, Cambridge University.[31] 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 honor of Stephen Hawking, citing his scientific distinction and perseverance in dealing with adversity.[32] 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.[citation needed] There is also a Stephen Hawking building in Winchester, at the Westgate school.[citation needed]


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.[33]

Awards and honors

Selected publications



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

Films and series

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

See also


  1. ^ Stephen Hawking to retire from prestigious post, Associated Press, 2008-10-24,, retrieved on 2008-10-25 
  2. ^ "Stephen Hawking accepts post at Ontario institute". Retrieved on 2008-11-27. 
  3. ^ a b Hawking, Stephen (1988). A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-38016-8. 
  4. ^ "Particle creation by black holes". Project Euclid. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  5. ^ "Honorary Fellows of the Royal Society of Arts". Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. Retrieved on 2007-03-25. 
  6. ^ Mason, Michael. "Alliance, Many of the greatest minds of science meet regularly in Vatican City to counsel the pope on the hot topics of the day'". Discover Magazine (Discover Magazine) (September 2008): 43. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Current Biography, 1984. New York City: H. W. Wilson Company. 1984. 
  8. ^ "Stephen William Hawking". University of St Andrews. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  9. ^ Dr. Hawking, Stephen W. 1994. Black Holes And Baby Universes and Other Essays. Bantam Books, London. ISBN 0553374117.
  10. ^ Stephen Hawking A Biography. Greenwood Press. 1995. 
  11. ^ "Dick Tahta". The Guardian.,,1983173,00.html. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  12. ^ Hawking, 'Disability Advice', Professor Stephen Hawking.
  13. ^ "Hawking and second wife agree to divorce". 2007-01-09. Retrieved on 2007-03-18. 
  14. ^ "Welcome back to the family, Stephen". The Times. 2007-05-06. Retrieved on 2007-05-06. 
  15. ^ "Stephen Hawking plans to see space". 2007-01-09. Retrieved on 2007-03-18. 
  16. ^ "Hawking takes zero-gravity flight". 2007-04-26. Retrieved on 2007-04-26. 
  17. ^ "Move To New Planet, says Hawking". BBC. 2006-11-06. Retrieved on 2008-02-21. 
  18. ^ "Physicist Hawking experiences zero gravity". CNN. 2007-04-26. Retrieved on 2007-05-04. 
  19. ^ "Origins of the universe: Stephen Hawking's J. Robert Oppenheimer Lecture". University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  20. ^ Hawking, Stephen; Roger Penrose (January 1970). "The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology". Proceedings of the Royal Society A 314 (1519): 529–548. doi:10.1098/rspa.1970.0021 (inactive 2009-03-13). 
  21. ^ Hawking, SW (1974). "Black Hole Explosions". Nature 248 (1): 30–31. doi:10.1038/248030a0. Retrieved on 2007-03-23. 
  22. ^ "Primitive life 'likely elsewhere'". Press Association. 2008-04-21. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  23. ^ "17th International Conference". GR17. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  24. ^ Preskill, John (2004-07-24). "On Hawking's Concession". California Institute of Technology. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  25. ^ Hawking, Stephen (1992). Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time: A Reader's Companion. New York Bantam. p. 44. ISBN 0553077724. 
  26. ^ "Stephen Hawking: Asking big questions about the universe (Video time index 8:25)". TED Conferences, LLC. Retrieved on 2008-05-28. 
  27. ^ By contrast Sydney Selwyn, a contemporary of Hawking and also a distinguished British scientist who also suffered from a progressively debilitating illness, did not long survive the onset of his final illness
  28. ^ "My experience with ALS". Hawking, Stephen. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  29. ^ "Stephen Hawking". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Vice-Chancellor unveils Hawking statue". University of Cambridge. 2007-12-21. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. 
  32. ^ Komar, Oliver; Linda Buechner (October 2000). "The Stephen W. Hawking Science Museum in San Salvador Central America Honors the Fortitude of a Great Living Scientist". Journal of College Science Teaching XXX (2). Retrieved on 2008-09-28. 
  33. ^ "Our Friends". SOS Children's Villages. Retrieved on 2006-05-06. 
  34. ^ Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize, American Physical Society,, retrieved on 2008-08-29 
  35. ^ Oldest, space-travelled, science prize awarded to Hawking, The Royal Society, 24 August 2006,, retrieved on 2008-08-29 
  36. ^ The Hawking Paradox, Internet Movie Database, 2005,, retrieved on 2008-08-29 

Further reading

External links

NAME Hawking, Stephen
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Hawking, Stephen William
SHORT DESCRIPTION Theoretical physicist
DATE OF BIRTH 8 January 1942
PLACE OF BIRTH Oxford, England

Personal tools