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Professor Stephen Hawkins CH CBE FRS FRSA

English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge Stephen William Hawking CH CBE FRS FRSA sadly died 14 March 2018. He was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford to Frank and Isobel Hawking His mother was Scottish. Despite their families’ financial constraints, both parents attended the University of Oxford, where Frank read medicine and Isobel read Philosophy, Politics and Economic. The two met shortly after the beginning of the Second World War at a medical research institute where Isobel was working as a secretary and Frank was working as a medical researcher. They lived in Highgate; but, as London was being bombed in those years, Isobel went to Oxford to give birth in greater safety. Hawking had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward.

Hawking began his schooling at the Byron House School in Highgate, London. In 1948 Hawking attended St Albans High School for Girls for a few months. In 1950, Hawking’s father became head of the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research, so Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire where they were considered highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric. Hawking then attended Radlett School, an independent school in the village of Radlett in Hertfordshire, for a year and from September 1952, St Albans Independent School, in St Albans in Hertfordshire. Hawking’s father wanted his son to attend the well-regarded Westminster School, but the 13-year-old Hawking was ill on the day of the scholarship examination. His family could not afford the school fees without the financial aid of a scholarship, so Hawking remained at St Albans, during 1958 Hawking and his friends built a computer from clock parts, an old telephone switchboard and other recycled component, with the help of the mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta. Hawking was known at school as “Einstein” and, inspired by Tahta, decided to read mathematics at university.

Hawking’s father wanted his son to attend University College, Oxford, his own alma mater. As it was not possible to read mathematics there at the time, Hawking decided to study physics and chemistry And was awarded a scholarship in March 1959 and Hawking began his university education at University College, Oxford in October 1959 at the age of 17 under physics tutor, Robert Berman. during his second and third year Hawking made more of an effort “to be one of the boys”. He developed into a popular, lively and witty college member, interested in classical music and science fiction. He also joined the college boat club, the University College Boat Club, where he coxed a rowing crew. Hawking only studied about 1,000 hours during his three years at Oxford which made his final exams a challenge, so he decided to answer only theoretical physics questions rather than those requiring factual knowledge. A first-class honours degree was a condition of acceptance for his planned graduate study in cosmology at the University of Cambridge. The final result was on the borderline between first- and second-class honours, making a viva (oral examination) necessary. Hawking received a first-class BA (Hons.) degree in natural science and completing a trip to Iran with a friend, he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in October 1962

During Hawking’s first year as a doctoral student He was assigned Dennis William Sciama, one of the founders of modern cosmology, as a supervisor rather than noted astronomer Fred Hoyle. Hawking was then diagnosed with a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Following the diagnosis Hawking fell into a depression – though his doctors advised that he continue with his studies, he felt there was little point. His disease progressed more slowly than doctors had predicted. Although Hawking had difficulty walking unsupported, and his speech was almost unintelligible, an initial diagnosis that he had only two years to live proved unfounded. With Sciama’s encouragement, he returned to his work. Hawking started developing a reputation for brilliance and brashness when he publicly challenged the work of Fred Hoyle and his student Jayant Narlikar at a lecture in June 1964.

When Hawking began his graduate studies, there was much debate in the physics community concerning the creation of the universe: the Big Bang and Steady State theory Inspired by Roger Penrose’s theorem of a spacetime singularity in the centre of black holes, Hawking applied the same thinking to the entire universe; and, during 1965, he wrote his thesis on this topic.Hawking received a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College he obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology, in March 1966 and his essay titled “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time” shared top honours with one by Penrose to win that year’s prestigious Adams Prize. His scientific works include a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called Hawking radiation. Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He was a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

In his work, and in collaboration with Penrose, Hawking extended the singularity theorem concepts first explored in his doctoral thesis. This included not only the existence of singularities but also the theory that the universe might have started as a singularity. Their joint essay was the runner-up in the 1968 Gravity Research Foundation competition. In 1970 they published a proof that if the universe obeys the general theory of relativity and fits any of the models of physical cosmology developed by Alexander Friedmann, then it must have begun as a singularity. In 1969, Hawking accepted a specially created Fellowship for Distinction in Science to remain at Caius.

In 1970, Hawking postulated what became known as the second law of black hole dynamics, that the event horizon of a black hole can never get smaller. With James M. Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. However Jacob Bekenstein, a graduate student of John Wheeler, went even further—and ultimately correctly—to apply thermodynamic concepts literally. Hawking’s work with Carter, Werner Israel and David C. Robinson strongly supported Wheeler’s no-hair theorem, one that states that no matter what the original material from which a black hole is created, it can be completely described by the properties of mass, electrical charge and rotation. His essay titled “Black Holes” won the Gravity Research Foundation Award in January 1971. Hawking’s first book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, written with George Ellis, was published in 1973. Inspired by a visit to Moscow and discussions with Yakov Borisovich Zel’dovich and Alexei Starobinsky, Hawking began studying quantum gravity and quantum mechanics. His work in this area showed that according to the uncertainty principle, rotating black holes emit particles and the results of his calculations contradicted his second law, which claimed black holes could never get smaller and supported Bekenstein’s results which show that black holes emit radiation, known today as Hawking radiation. The discovery was widely accepted as a significant breakthrough in theoretical physics.


In 1974 Hawking was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) a few weeks after the announcement of Hawking radiation becoming one of the youngest scientists to become a Fellow. In 1970 Hawking was appointed to the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and worked with a friend Kip Thorne, at the faculty, with whom he discussed whether the X-ray source Cygnus X-1 was a black hole.Hawking returned to Cambridge in 1975 as reader in gravitational physics and was regularly interviewed for print and television. He also received increasing academic recognition of his work. In 1975, he was awarded both the Eddington Medal and the Pius XI Gold Medal, and in 1976 the Dannie Heineman Prize, the Maxwell Prize and the Hughes Medal. In 1977 He was appointed a professor with a chair in gravitational physics and received the Albert Einstein Medal and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1978. Hawking was also elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge where his first lecture was: “Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics?” and proposed N=8 Supergravity as the leading theory to solve many of the outstanding problems physicists were studying. In 1981, he proposed that information in a black hole is irretrievably lost when a black hole evaporates however this contradicts a fundamental tenet of quantum mechanics.

The theory of Cosmological inflation which proposed that following the Big Bang, the universe initially expanded incredibly rapidly before settling down to a slower expansion – was proposed by Alan Guth and also developed by Andrei Ling. In 1981, Hawking and Gary Gibbons organised a three-week Nuffield Workshop in the summer of 1982 on “The Very Early Universe” at Cambridge University, which focused on inflation theory Hawking also began a new line of quantum theory research into the origin of the universe. In 1981 at a Vatican conference, he presented work suggesting that there might be no boundary to the universe, Hawking was also awarded the American Franklin Medal, and in the 1982 New Year Honours appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)

He subsequently developed the research in collaboration with Jim Hartle, and in 1983 they published a model, known as the Hartle–Hawking state. It proposed that prior to the Planck epoch, the universe had no boundary in space-time; before the Big Bang, time did not exist and the concept of the beginning of the universe is meaningless. The initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models was replaced with a region akin to the North Pole. One cannot travel north of the North Pole, but there is no boundary there – it is simply the point where all north-running lines meet and end. Hawking did not rule out the existence of a Creator, asking in A Brief History of Time “Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence? In his early work, Hawking spoke of God in a metaphorical sense. In A Brief History of Time he wrote: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason. He also suggested that the existence of God was not necessary to explain the origin of the universe, however the existence of God was also compatible with an open universe. In1985 Hawking published a paper theorising that if the no-boundary proposition were correct, then time would run backwards if the universe stopped expanding and collapsed. However He later withdrew this concept following the publication of a paper by Don Page and independent calculations by Raymond Laflamme.

In 1988 Hawking published a successful and very informative book Entitled “A Brief history of time” Which explained his ideas and theories clearly in non-technical language. It appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks And led both Newsweek and a television special to describe Hawking as “Master of the Universe”. He received further academic recognition, including five more honorary degrees, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1985), the Paul Dirac Medal and, jointly with Penrose, the prestigious Wolf Prize. In the 1989 Birthday Honours, he was appointed a Companion of Honour (CH). Hawking was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009.

Hawking pursued his work in physics: in 1993 he co-edited a book on Euclidean quantum gravity with Gary Gibbons and published a collected edition of his own articles on black holes and the Big Bang. In1994, Hawking and Penrose delivered a series of six lectures at the Cambridge’s Newton Institute, which were published in 1996 as “The Nature of Space and Time”. In 1997, he conceded a 1991 public scientific wager made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill of Caltech concerning “cosmic censorship conjecture”. Hawking later specified that such singularities would occur without extra conditions and made a bet concerning the black hole information paradox. Thorne and Hawking argued that since general relativity made it impossible for black holes to radiate and lose information, the mass-energy and information carried by Hawking radiation must be “new”, and not from inside the black hole event horizon. However this contradicted the quantum mechanics of microcausality, which suggests that the information emitted by a black hole was from inside the black hole event horizon.

A film version of A Brief History of Time, directed by Errol Morris and produced by Steven Spielberg, premiered in 1992. A popular-level collection of essays, interviews, and talks titled Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays was published in 1993 and a six-part television series Stephen Hawking’s Universe focussing entirely on science appeared in 1997. With a companion book. Hawking continued to write publishing The Universe in a Nutshell in 2001,and A Briefer History of Time, in 2005 with Leonard Mlodinow to update his earlier works with the aim of making them accessible to a wider audience, and God Created the Integers,in 2006. Hawking then developed a theory of “top-down cosmology”, with Thomas Hertog at CERN and Jim Hartle. This states that the universe had not one unique initial state but many different ones, and therefore that it is inappropriate to formulate a theory that predicts the universe’s current configuration from one particular initial state. It also posits that the present “selects” the past from a superposition of many possible histories. In doing so, the theory suggests a possible resolution of the fine-tuning question. Hawking continued to travel widely, travelling to Chile, Easter Island, South Africa, Spain (to receive the Fonseca Prize in 2008, Canada and the United States.

By 2003, Many physicists thought Hawking was wrong about Black Holes, so In a 2004 lecture in Dublin Hawking described his own, somewhat controversial solution to the information paradox problem, postulating that black holes have more than one topology. In his 2005 paper he argued that the information paradox was explained by examining all the alternative histories of universes, with the information loss in those with black holes being cancelled out by those without such loss. Hawking also emphatically argued, that the Higgs boson would never be found. The particle was proposed to exist as part of the Higgs field theory by Peter Higgs in 1964. Hawking and Higgs engaged in a heated and public debate over the matter in 2002 and again in 2008 until The particle was discovered in July 2012 at CERN following construction of the Large Hadron Collider, and Higgs subsequently won the Nobel Prize for Physics, in 2013 for his discovery

In 2007, Hawking and his daughter Lucy published George’s Secret Key to the Universe, a children’s book designed to explain theoretical physics in an accessible fashion and featuring characters similar to those in the Hawking familyThe book was followed by sequels in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Following a 1002 UK-wide vote, the BBC included Hawking in their list of the 100 Greatest Britons. He was awarded the Copley Medal from the Royal Society, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is America’s highest civilian honour and the Russian Special Fundamental Physics Prize. Several buildings have been named after him, including the Stephen W. Hawking Science Museum in San Salvador, El Salvador, the Stephen Hawking Building in Cambridge, and the Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute in Canada. Appropriately, given Hawking’s association with time, he unveiled the mechanical “Chronophage” (or time-eating) Corpus Clock at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in September 2008.

During his career, Hawking supervised 39 successful PhD students. Hawking retired as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 2009 and worked as director of research at the Cambridge University Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. In 2009 Hawking held a party open to all, complete with hors d’oeuvres and iced champagne, as a tongue-in-cheek test of his 1992 conjecture that travel into the past is effectively impossible, but only publicized it afterwards. In 2015, Hawking helped launch Breakthrough Initiatives, an effort to search for extraterrestrial life. Hawking created Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth, a documentary on space colonisation, as a 2017 episode of Tomorrow’s World. In 2017, Hawking was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Imperial College London.

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