Professor Stephen W. Hawking (at home)

Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist recognized for his groundbreaking scientific work concerning the relationship between black holes and the beginning of the universe. He studies the basic physical laws governing the universe in an effort to understand how the universe began. Hawking uses complex mathematical models to explore his ideas and develop his scientific theories. He believes anyone can understand the basic ideas of his research and endeavors to share his excitement about science with anyone who is interested, regardless of academic background. He is the author of several books written for nonscientists explaining the concepts of his research on black holes and the universe. His best-selling book *A Brief History of Time*, first published in 1988, sold over 9 million copies as of 2010 and is published in more than 30 languages. His personal story is also a human interest story. At the age of 21, while attending Cambridge University, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “motor neuron disease.” This degenerative disease affects voluntary muscle coordination. ALS does not affect brain function and Hawking is able to continue working in spite of the disabling effects of the disease. His confinement to a motorized wheelchair, his use of a computer-generated voice synthesizer, and his many appearances in the media have made Hawking one of the most recognized scientists around the world. Born January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England, Hawking realized at a young age that he wanted to study science. He attended Oxford University and planned to study mathematics, but chose to study physics because the university did not have a program in mathematics. After completing his studies at Oxford, Hawking earned a Ph.D. in cosmology from Cambridge University. While working as a research associate at Cambridge, Hawking became interested in the study of black holes and the history of the universe. In his dissertation, Hawking theoretically proved that the universe began as a single point of infinite density, known as a “singularity.” As a theoretical physicist, Hawking relies on mathematical models to describe and build scientific theory, which can then be supported or refuted through observation. In particular, Hawking applies known mathematics to study particular objects in the universe, called “black holes,” and to study the universe itself. His work concerning the origins of the universe is built from the mathematical model of the general theory of relativity. This theory, developed by Albert Einstein and published in 1915, describes gravity in terms of its geometric relationship to space and time. Using the mathematics of general relativity, Hawking demonstrated that the equations imply the universe had a beginning as a singularity. This moment at the beginning of the universe is known as the “Big Bang.” However, theoretical physicists such as Hawking have been unable to determine the precise conditions that enable the Big Bang to occur because the mathematics of time and space become undefined at the point of a singularity. Singularities also occur when stars collapse under their own gravitational force and become black holes. Applying the mathematics of general relativity, Hawking also demonstrated that time should come to an end inside a black hole, although the equations are again undefined at the point of a singularity. His research into the structure of black holes further led to his development of a theoretical model concerning radiation emitted from black holes, which is known as “Hawking radiation.” Hawking states he has always been intrigued by life’s big questions and wants to find scientific answers to those questions. His extensive work in the mathematical exploration of black holes and the structure of the universe has led to profound insights in the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. Among his many academic honors and awards, he held the prestigious Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University from 1979 to 2009, a post once held by Isaac Newton. He continues to work toward his goal of achieving a complete understanding of the universe and why it exists as it does. He and other theoretical physicists are searching for mathematical models to combine quantum mechanics (the study of subatomic particles) and general relativity. He claims that he does not particularly enjoy working with complex mathematical equations because he does not find them intuitive. Rather, he thinks about his ideas geometrically by envisioning mental pictures and visual images. It is these mental pictures and images he uses to try to convey his theoretical ideas. Since writing *A Brief History of Time*, he has continued his efforts to share his ideas and has written several books for the nonscientist, including *Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays* and *The Universe in a Nutshell*.

He had a guest appearance on an episode of the television series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, playing poker with Data, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton in the episode ‘Descent, Part I’. The animated television series ‘The Simpsons’ has occasionally featured him in episodes.

Useful WebPages

Stephen Hawking official page

http://www.hawking.org.uk/Stephen Hawking – Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_HawkingScience Kids – Stephen Hawking

http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/scientists/stephenhawking.htmlFurther Reading

Hawking, S.

*Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays*. New York: Bantam, 1993.

Hawking, S.

*A Brief History of Time*. New York: Bantam, 1988.

Hawking, S.

*God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History*. New York: Running Press, 2007.

Hawking, S.

*The Universe in a Nutshell*. New York: Bantam, 2001.