Stephen Hawking biography: Theories, books & quotes

A brief history of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

Professor Stephen Hawking speaks about

  • Scientific achievements
  • Filmography
  • Quotes and controversial statements

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Stephen Hawking is regarded as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history. 

His work on the origins and structure of the universe, from the Big Bang to black holes, revolutionized the field, while his best-selling books have appealed to readers who may not have Hawking's scientific background. Hawking died on March 14, 2018 , at the age of 76.

Stephen Hawking was seen by many as the world's smartest person, though he never revealed his IQ score. When asked about his IQ score by a New York Times reporter he replied, "I have no idea, people who boast about their IQ are losers," according to the news site The Atlantic .  

Related: 4 bizarre Stephen Hawking theories that turned out to be right (and 6 we're not sure about)

In this brief biography, we look at Hawking's education and career — ranging from his discoveries to the popular books he's written — and the disease that robbed him of mobility and speech.   

The early life of Stephen Hawking

British cosmologist Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England on Jan. 8, 1942  — 300 years to the day after the death of the astronomer Galileo Galilei . He attended University College, Oxford, where he studied physics, despite his father's urging to focus on medicine. Hawking went on to Cambridge to research cosmology , the study of the universe as a whole. 

In early 1963, just shy of his 21st birthday, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) . Doctors told Hawkings that he would likely not survive more than two years with the disease. Completing his doctorate did not appear likely, but Hawking defied the odds. He also obtained his PhD in 1966 for his thesis entitled " Properties of expanding universes ". In that same year, Hawking also won the prestigious Adams Prize for his essay entitled "Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time".

From then Hawking went on to forge new roads into the understanding of the universe in the decades since. 

As the disease spread, Hawking became less mobile and began using a wheelchair. Talking grew more challenging and, in 1985, an emergency tracheotomy caused his total loss of speech. A speech-generating device constructed at Cambridge, combined with a software program, served as his electronic voice, allowing Hawking to select his words by moving the muscles in his cheek.

Just before his diagnosis, Hawking met Jane Wilde, and the two were married in 1965. The couple had three children before separating in 1990. Hawking remarried in 1995 to Elaine Mason but divorced in 2006.

Stephen Hawking's greatest scientific achievements

Throughout his career, Hawking proposed several theories regarding astronomical anomalies, posed curious questions about the cosmos and enlightened the world about the origin of everything. Here are just some of the many milestones Hawking made in the name of science. 

In 1970, Hawkings and fellow physicist and Oxford classmate, Roger Penrose, published a joint paper entitled " The singularities of gravitational collapse and cosmology ". In this paper, Hawking and Penrose proposed a new theory of spacetime singularities — a breakdown in the fabric of the universe found in one of Hawking's later discoveries, the black hole. This early work not only challenged concepts in physics but also supported the concept of the Big Bang as the birth of the universe, as outlined in Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity in the 1940s. 

Over the course of his career, Hawking studied the basic laws governing the universe. In 1974, Hawking published another paper called " Black hole explosions? ", in which he outlined a theorem that united Einstein's theory of general relativity, with quantum theory — which explains the behavior of matter and energy on an atomic level. In this new paper, Hawking hypothesized that matter not only fell into the gravitational pull of black holes but that photons radiated from them — which has now been confirmed in laboratory experiments by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel — aptly named "Hawking radiation". 

In 1974, Hawking was inducted into the Royal Society, a worldwide fellowship of scientists. Five years later, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, the most famous academic chair in the world (the second holder was Sir Isaac Newton , also a member of the Royal Society).

During the 1980s, Hawking turned his attention to the Big Bang and the uncertainties about the beginning of the universe. "Events before the Big Bang are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them. Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory and say that time began at the Big Bang," he said during his lecture called The Beginning of Time . In 1983, Hawking, along with scientists James Harlte, published a paper outlining their " no-boundary proposal " for the universe. In their paper, Hawking and Hartle describe the shape of the universe as reminiscent of a shuttlecock — with the Big Bang at the narrowest point and the expanding universe emerging from it.

Related: Can we time travel? A theoretical physicist provides some answers

Books by Stephen Hawking

In the last three decades of Hawking's life, he not only continued to publish academic literature, but he also published several popular science books to share his theories of the history of the universe with the layperson. His most popular book " A Brief History of Time " (10th-anniversary edition: Bantam, 1998) was first published in 1988 and became an international bestseller. It has sold almost 10 million copies and has been translated into 40 different languages.

Hawking went on to write other nonfiction books aimed at non-scientists. These include " A Briefer History of Time ," " The Universe in a Nutshell ," " The Grand Design " and " On the Shoulders of Giants ." 

Along with his many successful books about the inner workings of the universe, Hawking also began a series of science fiction books called " George and the Big Bang ", with his daughter Lucy Hawking in 2011. Aimed at middle school children, the series follows George's adventures as he travels through space. 

Stephen Hawking's filmography

Hawking has made several television appearances, including a playing hologram of himself on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and a cameo on the television show "Big Bang Theory." He has also voiced himself in several episodes of the animated series "Futurama" and "The Simpson". In 1997, PBS also presented an educational miniseries titled " Stephen Hawking's Universe ," which probes the theories of the cosmologist. 

 In 2014, a movie based on Hawking's life was released. Called "The Theory of Everything," the film drew praise from Hawking , who said it made him reflect on his own life. "Although I'm severely disabled, I have been successful in my scientific work," Hawking wrote on Facebook in November 2014. "I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island, down in a submarine and up on a zero-gravity flight. One day, I hope to go into space." 

Related: The Theory of Everything: Searching for the universal rules of physics

Stephen Hawking's quotes and controversial statements

Hawking's quotes range from notable to poetic to controversial. Among them: 

  • "Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? "— A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes , 1988 
  • "All of my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them. If, like me, you have looked at the stars, and tried to make sense of what you see, you too have started to wonder what makes the universe exist."— Stephen Hawking's Universe , 1997.  
  • "Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in." — The Guardian, 2011 .
  • "We should seek the greatest value of our action." — The Guardian, 2011. 
  • "The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired. "— A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes , 1988.   
  • "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge."  
  • "It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value." — Life in the Universe , 1996.  
  • "One cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem." — A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes , 1988.  
  • "It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven't done badly. People won't have time for you if you are always angry or complaining." — The Guardian, 2005 . 
  • "I relish the rare opportunity I've been given to live the life of the mind. But I know I need my body and that it will not last forever." — Stem Cell Universe , 2014. 

A list of Hawking quotes would be incomplete without mentioning some of his more controversial statements.

He frequently said that humans must leave Earth if we wished to survive. 

  • "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million...Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward-looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space," he said during an interview with video site Big Think , 2010. 
  • "[W]e must … continue to go into space for the future of humanity…I don't think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet,"  Hawking said during a lecture at the Oxford Union debating society , 2016. 
  • "We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth," he said during a speech at the Starmus Festival in Norway, 2017. 

He also said time travel should be possible, and that we should explore space for the romance of it. 

"Time travel used to be thought of as just science fiction, but Einstein's general theory of relativity allows for the possibility that we could warp space-time so much that you could go off in a rocket and return before you set out. I was one of the first to write about the conditions under which this would be possible. I showed it would require matter with negative energy density, which may not be available. Other scientists took courage from my paper and wrote further papers on the subject," he told the new site Parade in 2010. "Science is not only a disciple of reason, but, also, one of romance and passion," he adds.

The theoretical physicist was also concerned that robots could not only have an impact on the economy but also mean doom for humanity.

"The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining," he wrote in a 2016 column in The Guardian .

"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race," he told the BBC in 2014. Hawking added, however, that AI developed to date has been helpful. It's more the self-replication potential that worries him. "It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."

"The genie is out of the bottle. I fear that AI may replace humans altogether," Hawking told WIRED in November 2017.

An avowed atheist, Hawking also occasionally waded into the topic of religion.

  • "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." — The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. 
  • "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail…There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he said during a 2011 interview with The Guardian .
  • "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist," Hawking said in a 2014 interview with the news site El Mundo .  

For more information about Stephen Hawking, his theories and read through the many transcriptions of his influential lectures, check out his official website . You can also watch Hawking probe the origins of the cosmos in his extraordinary TED talk .  


#5: Stephen Hawking’s warning: Abandon earth-or face extinction . Big Think. (2010, July 27).

Beck, J. (2017, October 11). “people who boast about their IQ are losers.” The Atlantic.

The beginning of time . Stephen Hawking. (n.d.-c).

Guardian News and Media. (2005, September 27). Interview: Stephen Hawking . The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media. (2011a, May 15). Stephen Hawking: “there is no heaven; it’s a Fairy story.” The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media. (2011b, May 15). Stephen Hawking: “there is no heaven; it’s a Fairy story.” The Guardian.

Guardian News and Media. (2016, December 1). This is the most dangerous time for our planet | Stephen Hawking . The Guardian.

Hartle, J. B., & Hawking, S. W. (1983, December 15). Wave function of the universe . Physical Review D.

Hawking radiation and the sonic black hole - technion - israel institute of technology . Technion. (2021, February 17).

Hawking, S. W. (1974, March 1). Black Hole Explosions? . Nature News.

Life in the universe . Stephen Hawking. (n.d.-a).

Medeiros, J. (2017, November 28). Stephen Hawking: “I fear ai may replace humans altogether.” WIRED UK.

Oxford Union Speech . Stephen Hawking. (n.d.-b).

Pablo Jáuregui, Enviado especial Guía de Isora (Tenerife), & Chocolatillo. (2018, March 14). Stephen Hawking: “no hay ningún dios. soy ateo.” ELMUNDO.

The singularities of gravitational collapse and cosmology . Royal Society Publishing. (1970, January 27).

Hawking, S. W. (1966). Properties of expanding universes.

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Biography of Stephen Hawking, Physicist and Cosmologist

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Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942–March 14, 2018) was a world-renowned cosmologist and physicist, especially esteemed for overcoming an extreme physical disability to pursue his groundbreaking scientific work. He was a bestselling author whose books made complex ideas accessible to the general public. His theories provided deep insights into the connections between quantum physics and relativity, including how those concepts might be united in explaining fundamental questions related to the development of the universe and the formation of black holes.

Fast Facts: Stephen Hawking

  • Known For : Cosmologist, physicist, best-selling science writer
  • Also Known As : Steven William Hawking
  • Born : January 8, 1942 in Oxfordshire, England
  • Parents : Frank and Isobel Hawking
  • Died: March 14, 2018 in Cambridge, England
  • Education : St Albans School, B.A., University College, Oxford, Ph.D., Trinity Hall, Cambridge, 1966
  • Published Works :  A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, The Universe in a Nutshell, On the Shoulders of Giants, A Briefer History of Time, The Grand Design, My Brief History
  • Awards and Honors : Fellow of the Royal Society, the Eddington Medal, the Royal Society's Hughes Medal, the Albert Einstein Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Wolf Prize in Physics, the Prince of Asturias Awards in Concord, the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, the Michelson Morley Award of Case Western Reserve University, the Copley Medal of the Royal Society
  • Spouses : Jane Wilde, Elaine Mason
  • Children : Robert, Lucy, Timothy
  • Notable Quote : “Most of the threats we face come from the progress we’ve made in science and technology. We are not going to stop making progress, or reverse it, so we must recognize the dangers and control them. I’m an optimist, and I believe we can.”

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxfordshire, England, where his mother had been sent for safety during the German bombings of London of World War II. His mother Isobel Hawking was an Oxford graduate and his father Frank Hawking was a medical researcher.

After Stephen's birth, the family reunited in London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research. The family then moved to St. Albans so that Stephen's father could pursue medical research at the nearby Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill.

Education and Medical Diagnosis

Stephen Hawking attended school in St. Albans, where he was an unexceptional student. His brilliance was much more apparent in his years at Oxford University. He specialized in physics and graduated with first-class honors despite his relative lack of diligence. In 1962, he continued his education at Cambridge University, pursuing a Ph.D. in cosmology.

At age 21, a year after beginning his doctoral program, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as motor neuron disease, ALS, and Lou Gehrig's disease). Given only three years to live, he has written that this prognosis helped motivate him in his physics work .

There is little doubt that his ability to remain actively engaged with the world through his scientific work helped him persevere in the face of the disease. The support of family and friends were equally key. This is vividly portrayed in the dramatic film "The Theory of Everything."

The ALS Progresses

As his illness progressed, Hawking became less mobile and began using a wheelchair. As part of his condition, Hawking eventually lost his ability to speak, so he utilized a device capable of translating his eye movements (since he could no longer utilize a keypad) to speak in a digitized voice.

In addition to his keen mind within physics, he gained respect throughout the world as a science communicator. His achievements are deeply impressive on their own, but some of the reason he is so universally respected was his ability to accomplish so much while suffering the severe debility caused by ALS.

Marriage and Children

Just before his diagnosis, Hawking met Jane Wilde, and the two were married in 1965. The couple had three children before separating. Hawking later married Elaine Mason in 1995 and they divorced in 2006.

Career as Academic and Author

Hawking stayed on at Cambridge after his graduation, first as a research fellow and then as a professional fellow. For most of his academic career, Hawking served as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton .

Following a long tradition, Hawking retired from this post at age 67, in the spring of 2009, though he continued his research at the university's cosmology institute. In 2008 he also accepted a position as a visiting researcher at Waterloo, Ontario's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.

In 1982 Hawking began work on a popular book on cosmology. By 1984 he had produced the first draft of "A Brief History of Time," which he published in 1988 after some medical setbacks. This book remained on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for 237 weeks. Hawking's even more accessible "A Briefer History of Time" was published in 2005.

Fields of Study

Hawking's major research was in the areas of theoretical cosmology , focusing on the evolution of the universe as governed by the laws of general relativity . He is most well-known for his work in the study of black holes . Through his work, Hawking was able to:

  • Prove that singularities are general features of spacetime.
  • Provide mathematical proof that information which fell into a black hole was lost.
  • Demonstrate that black holes evaporate through Hawking radiation .

On March 14, 2018, Stephen Hawking died in his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76. His ashes were placed in London’s Westminster Abbey between the final resting places of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

Stephen Hawking made large contributions as a scientist, science communicator, and as a heroic example of how enormous obstacles can be overcome. The Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication is a prestigious award that "recognizes the merit of popular science on an international level."

Thanks to his distinctive appearance, voice, and popularity, Stephen Hawking is often represented in popular culture. He made appearances on the television shows "The Simpsons" and "Futurama," as well as having a cameo on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1993.

"The Theory of Everything," a biographical drama film about Hawking's life, was released in 2014.

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Comment and Physics

A brief history of stephen hawking: a legacy of paradox.

By Stuart Clark

14 March 2018

Stephen Hawking

Gemma Levine/Getty

Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, has died at the age of 76.

Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.

“He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”

Stephen Hawking dies aged 76

Tributes flow in following the death of world-famous theoretical physicist stephen hawking.

The most recognisable scientist of our age, Hawking holds an iconic status. His genre-defining book, A Brief History of Time , has sold more than 10 million copies since its publication in 1988, and has been translated into more than 35 languages. He appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation , The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory . His early life was the subject of an Oscar-winning performance by Eddie Redmayne in the 2014 film  The Theory of Everything . He was routinely consulted for oracular pronouncements on everything from time travel and alien life to Middle Eastern politics and nefarious robots . He had an endearing sense of humour and a daredevil attitude – relatable human traits that, combined with his seemingly superhuman mind, made Hawking eminently marketable.

But his cultural status – amplified by his disability and the media storm it invoked – often overshadowed his scientific legacy. That’s a shame for the man who discovered what might prove to be the key clue to the theory of everything , advanced our understanding of space and time, helped shape the course of physics for the last four decades and whose insight continues to drive progress in fundamental physics today.

Beginning with the big bang

Hawking’s research career began with disappointment. Arriving at the University of Cambridge in 1962 to begin his PhD, he was told that Fred Hoyle , his chosen supervisor, already had a full complement of students. The most famous British astrophysicist at the time, Hoyle was a magnet for the more ambitious students. Hawking didn’t make the cut. Instead, he was to work with Dennis Sciama, a physicist Hawking knew nothing about. In the same year, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neurone disease that quickly robs people of the ability to voluntarily move their muscles. He was told he had two years to live.

Although Hawking’s body may have weakened, his intellect stayed sharp. Two years into his PhD, he was having trouble walking and talking, but it was clear that the disease was progressing more slowly than the doctors had initially feared. Meanwhile, his engagement to Jane Wilde – with whom he later had three children, Robert, Lucy and Tim – renewed his drive to make real progress in physics.

Stephen and Lucy Hawking

Stephen and Lucy Hawking

James Veysey/Camera Press

Working with Sciama had its advantages. Hoyle’s fame meant that he was seldom in the department, whereas Sciama was around and eager to talk. Those discussions stimulated the young Hawking to pursue his own scientific vision. Hoyle was vehemently opposed to the big bang theory (in fact, he had coined the name “big bang” in mockery). Sciama, on the other hand, was happy for Hawking to investigate the beginning of time.

Time’s arrow

Hawking was studying the work of Roger Penrose , which proved that if Einstein’s general theory of relativity is correct, at the heart of every black hole must be a point where space and time themselves break down – a singularity. Hawking realised that if time’s arrow were reversed, the same reasoning would hold true for the universe as a whole. Under Sciama’s encouragement, he worked out the maths and was able to prove it: the universe according to general relativity began in a singularity.

Hawking was well aware, however, that Einstein didn’t have the last word. General relativity, which describes space and time on a large scale, doesn’t take into account quantum mechanics , which describes matter’s strange behaviour at much smaller scales. Some unknown “theory of everything” was needed to unite the two. For Hawking, the singularity at the universe’s origin did not signal the breakdown of space and time; it signalled the need for quantum gravity .

Luckily, the link that he forged between Penrose’s singularity and the singularity at the big bang provided a key clue for finding such a theory. If physicists wanted to understand the origin of the universe, Hawking had just shown them exactly where to look: a black hole .

Black holes were a subject ripe for investigation in the early 1970s. Although Karl Schwarzschild had found such objects lurking in the equations of general relativity back in 1915, theoreticians viewed them as mere mathematical anomalies and were reluctant to believe they could actually exist.

Albeit frightening, their action is reasonably straightforward: black holes have such strong gravitational fields that nothing, not even light, can escape their grip. Any matter that falls into one is forever lost to the outside world. This, however, is a dagger in the heart of thermodynamics.

Thermodynamic threat

The second law of thermodynamics is one of the most well-established laws of nature. It states that the entropy, or level of disorder in a system, always increases. The second law gives form to the observation that ice cubes will melt into a puddle, but a puddle of water will never spontaneously turn into a block of ice. All matter contains entropy, so what happens when it is dropped into a black hole? Is entropy lost along with it? If so, the total entropy of the universe goes down and black holes would violate the second law of thermodynamics.

Hawking thought that this was fine. He was happy to discard any concept that stood in the way to a deeper truth. And if that meant the second law, then so be it.

Bekenstein and breakthrough

But Hawking met his match at a 1972 physics summer school in the French ski resort of Les Houches, France. Princeton University graduate student Jacob Bekenstein thought that the second law of thermodynamics should apply to black holes too. Bekenstein had been studying the entropy problem and had reached a possible solution thanks to an earlier insight of Hawking’s .

A black hole hides its singularity with a boundary known as the event horizon. Nothing that crosses the event horizon can ever return to the outside. Hawking’s work had shown that the area of a black hole’s event horizon never decreases over time. What’s more, when matter falls into a black hole, the area of its event horizon grows.

Bekenstein realised this was key to the entropy problem. Every time a black hole swallows matter, its entropy appears to be lost, and at the same time, its event horizon grows. So, Bekenstein suggested, what if – to preserve the second law – the area of the horizon is itself a measure of entropy?

Hawking immediately disliked the idea and was angry that his own work had been used in support of a concept so flawed. With entropy comes heat, but the black hole couldn’t be radiating heat – nothing can escape its pull of gravity. During a break from the lectures, Hawking got together with colleagues Brandon Carter, who also studied under Sciama, and James Bardeen, of the University of Washington, and confronted Bekenstein.

The disagreement bothered Bekenstein. “These three were senior people. I was just out of my PhD. You worry whether you are just stupid and these guys know the truth,” he recalls.

Back in Cambridge, Hawking set out to prove Bekenstein wrong. Instead, he discovered the precise form of the mathematical relationship between entropy and the black hole’s horizon. Rather than destroying the idea, he had confirmed it. It was Hawking’s greatest breakthrough.

Hawking radiation

Hawking now embraced the idea that thermodynamics played a part in black holes. Anything that has entropy, he reasoned, also has a temperature – and anything that has a temperature can radiate.

His original mistake, Hawking realised, was in only considering general relativity, which says that nothing – no particles, no heat – can escape the grip of a black hole. That changes when quantum mechanics comes into play. According to quantum mechanics, fleeting pairs of particles and antiparticles are constantly appearing out of empty space, only to annihilate and disappear in the blink of an eye. When this happens in the vicinity of an event horizon, a particle-antiparticle pair can be separated – one falls behind the horizon while one escapes, leaving them forever unable to meet and annihilate. The orphaned particles stream away from the black hole’s edge as radiation. The randomness of quantum creation becomes the randomness of heat.

“I think most physicists would agree that Hawking’s greatest contribution is the prediction that black holes emit radiation,” says Sean Carroll , a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. “While we still don’t have experimental confirmation that Hawking’s prediction is true, nearly every expert believes he was right.”

Experiments to test Hawking’s prediction are so difficult because the more massive a black hole is, the lower its temperature. For a large black hole – the kind astronomers can study with a telescope – the temperature of the radiation is too insignificant to measure. As Hawking himself often noted, it was for this reason that he was never awarded a Nobel Prize. Still, the prediction was enough to secure him a prime place in the annals of science, and the quantum particles that stream from the black hole’s edge would forever be known as Hawking radiation .

Some have suggested that they should more appropriately be called Bekenstein-Hawking radiation, but Bekenstein himself rejects this. “The entropy of a black hole is called Bekenstein-Hawking entropy, which I think is fine. I wrote it down first, Hawking found the numerical value of the constant, so together we found the formula as it is today. The radiation was really Hawking’s work. I had no idea how a black hole could radiate. Hawking brought that out very clearly. So that should be called Hawking radiation.”

Theory of everything

The Bekenstein-Hawking entropy equation is the one Hawking asked to have engraved on his tombstone. It represents the ultimate mash-up of physical disciplines because it contains Newton’s constant, which clearly relates to gravity; Planck’s constant, which betrays quantum mechanics at play; the speed of light, the talisman of Einstein’s relativity; and the Boltzmann constant, the herald of thermodynamics.

The presence of these diverse constants hinted at a theory of everything, in which all physics is unified. Furthermore, it strongly corroborated Hawking’s original hunch that understanding black holes would be key in unlocking that deeper theory.

Hawking’s breakthrough may have solved the entropy problem, but it raised an even more difficult problem in its wake. If black holes can radiate, they will eventually evaporate and disappear. So what happens to all the information that fell in? Does it vanish too? If so, it will violate a central tenet of quantum mechanics. On the other hand, if it escapes from the black hole, it will violate Einstein’s theory of relativity. With the discovery of black hole radiation, Hawking had pit the ultimate laws of physics against one another. The black hole information loss paradox had been born.

Hawking staked his position in another ground-breaking and even more contentious paper entitled Breakdown of predictability in gravitational collapse, published in Physical Review D in 1976. He argued that when a black hole radiates away its mass, it does take all of its information with it – despite the fact that quantum mechanics expressly forbids information loss. Soon other physicists would pick sides, for or against this idea, in a debate that continues to this day. Indeed, many feel that information loss is the most pressing obstacle in understanding quantum gravity.

“Hawking’s 1976 argument that black holes lose information is a towering achievement, perhaps one of the most consequential discoveries on the theoretical side of physics since the subject was invented,” says Raphael Bousso of the University of California, Berkeley.

By the late 1990s, results emerging from string theory had most theoretical physicists convinced that Hawking was wrong about information loss, but Hawking, known for his stubbornness, dug in his heels. It wasn’t until 2004 that he would change his mind. And he did it with flair – dramatically showing up at a conference in Dublin and announcing his updated view : black holes cannot lose information.

Today, however, a new paradox known as the firewall has thrown everything into doubt (see “Hawking’s paradox”, below). It is clear that the question Hawking raised is at the core of the quest for quantum gravity.

“Black hole radiation raises serious puzzles we are still working very hard to understand,” says Carroll . “It’s fair to say that Hawking radiation is the single biggest clue we have to the ultimate reconciliation of quantum mechanics and gravity, arguably the greatest challenge facing theoretical physics today.”

Hawking’s legacy, says Bousso, will be “having put his finger on the key difficulty in the search for a theory of everything”.

Hawking continued pushing the boundaries of theoretical physics at a seemingly impossible pace for the rest of his life. He made important inroads towards understanding how quantum mechanics applies to the universe as a whole, leading the way in the field known as quantum cosmology. His progressive disease pushed him to tackle problems in novel ways, which contributed to his remarkable intuition for his subject. As he lost the ability to write out long, complicated equations, Hawking found new and inventive methods to solve problems in his head, usually by reimagining them in geometric form. But, like Einstein before him, Hawking never produced anything quite as revolutionary as his early work.

“Hawking’s most influential work was done in the 1970s, when he was younger,” says Carroll, “but that’s completely standard even for physicists who aren’t burdened with a debilitating neurone disease.”

Hawking the superstar

Stephen Hawking floating in zero g inside an aircraft

In the meantime, the publication of A Brief History of Time catapulted Hawking to cultural stardom and gave a fresh face to theoretical physics. He never seemed to mind. “In front of the camera, Hawking played the character of Hawking. He seemed to play with his cultural status,” says Hélène Mialet, an anthropologist from the University of California, Berkeley, who courted controversy in 2012 with the publication of her book Hawking Incorporated. In it, she investigated the way the people around Hawking helped him build and maintain his public image .

That public image undoubtedly made his life easier than it might otherwise have been. As Hawking’s disease progressed, technologists gladly provided increasingly complicated machines to allow him to communicate. This, in turn, let him continue doing the thing for which he should ultimately be remembered: his science.

“Stephen Hawking has done more to advance our understanding of gravitation than anyone since Einstein,” Carroll says. “He was a world-leading theoretical physicist, clearly the best in the world for his time among those working at the intersection of gravity and quantum mechanics, and he did it all in the face of a terrible disease. He is an inspirational figure, and history will certainly remember him that way.”

Hawking's paradox

In 2012, four physicists at the University of California, Santa Barbara – Ahmed Almheiri, Donald Marolf, Joseph Polchinski and James Sully, known collectively by physicists as AMPS – shocked the physics community with the results of a thought experiment .

When pairs of particles and antiparticles spawn near a black hole's event horizon, each pair shares a connection called entanglement. But what happens to this link and the information it holds when one of the pair falls in, leaving its twin to become a particle of Hawking radiation (see main story)?

One school of thought holds that the information is preserved as the hole evaporates, and that it is placed into subtle correlations among these particles of Hawking radiation.

But, AMPS asked, what does it look like to observers inside and outside the black hole? Enter Alice and Bob.

According to Bob, who remains outside the black hole, that particle has been separated from its antiparticle partner by the horizon. In order to preserve information, it must become entangled with another particle of Hawking radiation.

But what's happening from the point of view of Alice, who falls into the black hole? General relativity says that for a free-falling observer, gravity disappears, so she doesn't see the event horizon. According to Alice, the particle in question remains entangled with its antiparticle partner, because there is no horizon to separate them. The paradox is born.

So who is right? Bob or Alice? If it's Bob, then Alice will not encounter empty space at the horizon as general relativity claims. Instead she will be burned to a crisp by a wall of Hawking radiation – a firewall. If it's Alice who's right, then information will be lost, breaking a fundamental rule of quantum mechanics. "The fervent controversy surrounding Hawking's paradox reflects the stakes his work has raised: in quantising gravity, what gives? And how much?" says Raphael Bousso of the University of California, Berkeley. The answer awaits us in the theory of everything. Amanda Gefter

Article amended on 14 March 2018

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Stephen Hawking (1942–2018)

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Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom. He was a student in Dennis Sciama’s research group at the University of Cambridge at the same time as Stephen Hawking.

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Stephen Hawking in 1993.

Stephen Hawking in Cambridge, January 1993. Credit: David Montgomery/Getty

When Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor-neuron disease at the age of 21, it wasn’t clear that he would finish his PhD. Against all expectations, he lived on for 55 years, becoming one of the world’s most celebrated scientists.

Hawking, who died on 14 March 2018, was born in Oxford, UK, in 1942 to a medical-researcher father and a philosophy-graduate mother. After attending St Albans School near London, he earned a first-class degree in physics from the University of Oxford. He began his research career in 1962, enrolling as a graduate student in a group at the University of Cambridge led by one of the fathers of modern cosmology, Dennis Sciama.

The general theory of relativity was at that time undergoing a renaissance, initiated in part by Roger Penrose at Birkbeck College, London, who had introduced new mathematical techniques. These showed that generic gravitational collapse would lead to singularities — infinities that signal the need for new physics.

best biography of stephen hawking

Stephen Hawking: A life in science

The implications for black holes and the Big Bang were developed by Hawking in a series of papers collated in the 1973 monograph The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (Cambridge University Press), co-authored with George Ellis, a near-contemporary who had also been a student of Sciama. Especially important was the realization that the area of black holes’ horizons (‘one-way membranes’ that shroud the singularities, and from within which nothing can escape) could never decrease. The analogy with entropy — a measure of disorder that likewise can never decrease — was developed further by physicist Jacob Bekenstein.

These findings gained Hawking election to the Royal Society in London in 1974, at the age of 32. By then, he was so frail that both movement and speech were difficult, and most of us suspected that his days in front-line research were numbered. But in that same year, he came up with his most distinctive contribution to science: Hawking radiation.

By linking quantum theory and gravity, Hawking showed that a black hole would not be completely black, but would radiate with a well-defined temperature that depended inversely on its mass ( S. W. Hawking Nature 248, 30–31; 1974 ). Black-hole entropy was more than just an analogy. The implication was that the radiation would cause black holes to ‘evaporate’. This process would be unobservably slow, except in ‘mini-holes’ the size of atoms — and these are thought not to exist. Yet Hawking radiation — and the related issue of whether information that falls into a black hole is lost or is somehow recoverable from the radiation — was a profound issue, and one that still engenders controversy among theoretical physicists. Indeed, theorist Andrew Strominger at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in 2016 that one of Hawking’s papers on the subject ( S. W. Hawking Phys. Rev. D 14, 2460–2473; 1976 ) had caused “more sleepless nights among theoretical physicists than any paper in history”.

By the end of the 1970s, Hawking had been appointed to the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge (former incumbents include Isaac Newton and Paul Dirac); he held the post until he retired in 2009. During these years, in which his focus shifted to the quantum aspects of the Big Bang, the issue of information loss in black holes continued to challenge him.

In 1985, Stephen underwent a tracheotomy, which removed his already limited powers of speech. He was able to control a cursor on a screen and type out sentences — albeit with increasingly painful slowness (first with his hand, and eventually only with a cheek muscle). A speech synthesizer processed his words and generated the androidal accent that became his trademark. In this way, he completed his best-selling book A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988), which propelled him to celebrity status.

Had Hawking achieved equal distinction in any other branch of science besides cosmology, it probably would not have had the same resonance with a worldwide public. As I put it in The Telegraph newspaper in 2007, “the concept of an imprisoned mind roaming the cosmos” grabbed people’s imagination.

In 1965, Stephen married Jane Wilde. After 25 years of marriage, and three children, the strain of Stephen’s illness and of sharing their home with a team of nurses became too much and they separated, divorcing in 1995. Jane wrote a book about their life together, Travelling to Infinity (Alma, 2008), and both she and Stephen were happy with the telling of their story in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything (although it elides and conflates Stephen’s science). After a second, briefer marriage, Stephen was supported by an entourage of assistants, as well as his family.

Stephen remained remarkably positive throughout his life, despite the immense frustration that his condition clearly caused. He enjoyed theatre and opera trips, and he seemed energized rather than exhausted by his travels to all parts of the world, as well as by his regular trips to the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He retained robust common sense and a sense of humour, expressed forceful opinions, supported political causes and was happy to engage with the media, despite its insistent attention. His comments gained outsized attention even on subjects in which he was not a specialist, such as philosophy and the dangers of artificial intelligence.

Stephen’s expectations when he was diagnosed dropped to zero; he said that everything that had happened since had been a bonus. And what a bonus — for physics, for the millions enlightened by his books and for the even larger number inspired by his achievement against all the odds.

Nature 555 , 444 (2018)


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7 Fascinating Facts About Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

In honor of his inspiring endurance, and his immense contributions to the understanding of the cosmos that swirls around us, here are seven facts about the life of this otherworldly scientist:

He was an average student in elementary school

Hawking didn’t have the sort of sparkling early academic career you'd expect from a Grade-A genius. He claimed he didn't learn to properly read until he was 8 years old, and his grades never surpassed the average scores of his classmates at St. Albans School. Of course, there was a reason those same classmates nicknamed him "Einstein"; Hawking built a computer with friends as a teenager and demonstrated a tremendous capacity for grasping issues of space and time. He also got it together when it counted, dominating his Oxford entrance exams to score a scholarship to study physics at age 17.

Upon his ALS diagnosis, Hawking was told he only had two-and-a-half years to live

After falling while ice skating during his first year as a grad student at Cambridge University, Hawking was told he had the degenerative motor neuron disease Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and had only two-and-a-half years to live. Obviously that prognosis was light years off, but it seems early onset of the disease was a blessing in disguise, of sorts. Most ALS patients are diagnosed in their mid-50s and live another two to five years, but those diagnosed earlier tend to have a slower-progressing form of the disease. Furthermore, the loss of motor skills forced the burgeoning cosmologist to become more creative. "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," he later noted.

He was initially puzzled by his own equation

Hawking's equation, which involves the speed of light, Newton’s constant and other symbols that make the non-mathematically inclined run for cover, measures emissions from black holes that today is known as Hawking radiation. Hawking was initially puzzled by these findings, as he believed black holes to be celestial death traps that swallowed up all energy. However, he determined there was room for this phenomenon through the merging of quantum theory, general relativity and thermodynamics, distilling it all into one (relatively) simple but elegant formula in 1974. Already known for establishing important ground rules about the properties of black holes, this discovery kicked his career into a higher gear and set him on the path to stardom. Hawking later said he would like this equation to be carved on his tombstone.

Hawking almost died in 1985

Although the doomsday predictions of his early doctors were off, Hawking did almost die after contracting pneumonia while traveling to Geneva in 1985. While he was unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator, the option of removing the fragile scientist from life support was being considered until his then-wife, Jane, rejected the idea. Hawking instead underwent a tracheotomy, an operation that helped him breathe but permanently took away his ability to speak, prompting the creation of his famous speech synthesizer.

He considered his non-descript computer voice part of his identity

Hawking's original synthesizer was created by a California-based company called Words Plus, which ran a speech program called Equalizer on an Apple II computer. Adapted to a portable system that could be mounted on a wheelchair, the program enabled Hawking to "speak" by using a hand clicker to choose words on a screen. After he eventually lost use of his hands, Hawking had an infrared switch mounted on his glasses that generated words by detecting cheek movement. He also had the communication technology overhauled by Intel, though he insisted on retaining the same robotic voice with its distinctly non-British accent he'd been using for three decades, as he considered it an indelible part of his identity.

Hawking wrote books using his vocal synthesizer

Hawking long believed he could write a book about the mysteries of the universe that would connect with the public, a task that seemed all but impossible after he lost the abilities to write and speak. However, he painstakingly pressed forward with his speech synthesizer, receiving valuable assistance from students who relayed draft revisions with his editor in the United States via speakerphone. Hawking's vision ultimately was realized, as A Brief History of Time landed on the London Sunday Times best-seller list for 237 weeks after its publication in 1988. He went on to pen an autobiography, several other books about his field and a series of science-themed novels, co-written with his daughter, Lucy.

He had a wicked sense of humor

Despite his extraordinary physical challenges, Hawking wasn't shy about appearing on television. 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 lent his voice to the animated shows The Simpsons and Futurama , and, fittingly, surfaced on the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory . Of course, screen time wasn’t only about laughs for the world-renowned physicist, who returned to his bread-and-butter topics of cosmology and the origins of life for his six-part 1997 miniseries Stephen Hawking's Universe . He also provided plenty of stark, sobering descriptions of his life for the 2013 documentary Hawking .

READ MORE: 10 of Stephen Hawking's Best Zingers

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Stephen Hawking Biography


Early life Stephen Hawking

Stephen William Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England. His family had moved to Oxford to escape the threat of V2 rockets over London. As a child, he showed prodigious talent and unorthodox study methods. On leaving school, he got a place at University College, Oxford University where he studied Physics. His physics tutor at Oxford, Robert Berman, later said that Stephen Hawking was an extraordinary student. He used few books and made no notes, but could work out theorems and solutions in a way other students couldn’t.

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

– Stephen Hawking’s Universe (1985) by John Boslough, Ch. 7

stephen hawking

It was in Cambridge that Stephen Hawking first started to develop symptoms of neuro-muscular problems – a type of motor neuron disease. This quickly started to hamper his physical movements. His speech became slurred, and he became unable to even to feed himself. At one stage, the doctors gave him a lifespan of three years. However, the progress of the disease slowed down, and he has managed to overcome his severe disability to continue his research and active public engagements. At Cambridge, a fellow scientist developed a synthetic speech device which enabled him to speak by using a touchpad. This early synthetic speech sound has become the ‘voice’ of Stephen Hawking, and as a result, he has kept the original sound of this early model – despite technological advancements.

Nevertheless, despite the latest technology, it can still be a time-consuming process for him to communicate. Stephen Hawking has taken a pragmatic view to his disability:

“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability. One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining. ” The Guardian (27 September 2005)

Stephen Hawking’s principal fields of research have been involved in theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity.

Amongst many other achievements, he developed a mathematical model for Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. He has also undertaken a lot of work on the nature of the Universe, The Big Bang and Black Holes.

In 1974, he outlined his theory that black holes leak energy and fade away to nothing. This became known as “Hawking radiation” in 1974. With mathematicians Roger Penrose he demonstrated that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

Despite being one of the best physicists of his generation, he has also been able to translate difficult physics models into a general understanding for the general public. His books – A Brief History of Time and The Universe in A Nutshell have both became runaway bestsellers – with a Brief History of Time staying in the Bestsellers lists for over 230 weeks and selling over 10 million copies. In his books, Hawking tries to explain scientific concepts in everyday language and give an overview to the workings behind the cosmos.

“The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.”

–  A Brief History Of Time (1998) ch. 8

Stephen Hawking has become one of the most famous scientists of his generation. He makes frequent public engagements and his portrayed himself in popular media culture from programmes, such as The Simpsons to Star Trek.

Hawking had the capacity to relate the most complex physics to relateable incidents in everyday life.

“The message of this lecture is that black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole both on the outside and possibly to another universe. So if you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up – there’s a way out.”

Stephen Hawking. 7 January 2016 –  Reith lecture at the Royal Institute in London.

In the late 1990s, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, but 10 years later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science

He married Jane Wilde, a language student in 1965. He said this was a real turning point for him at a time when he was fatalistic because of his illness. They later divorced but had three children.

Stephen Hawking passed away on 14 March 2018 at his home in Cambridge.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan . “ Biography of Stephen Hawking ”, Oxford, UK – . Last updated 15 January 2018.

A Brief History Of Time

Book Cover

A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking at Amazon

Quotes of Stephen Hawking

“If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”

– Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”

– A Brief History of Time (1988)

“One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.”

– Stephen Hawking

“For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

– Stephen Hawking (BT advert 1993)

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Remembering Stephen Hawking’s Greatest Scientific Accomplishment — and My Famous Bet Against Him

I ’m glad to write about Stephen Hawking for Time because Stephen spent much of his scientific career thinking and writing about time. Time was his thing .

Stephen studied time from the perspective of Einstein’s theory of gravitation, the general theory of relativity . One of his early achievements was proving that time had a beginning — that the laws of physics as we now understand them must have broken down very early in the history of the universe, at the Big Bang. Stephen also greatly advanced our understanding of black holes , where gravitational forces are so strong that time comes to an end. He argued forcefully that travel backward in time is disallowed by the laws of physics, which (as he put it) “makes the world safe for historians.” No one understood time better than Stephen Hawking.

Stephen’s greatest scientific achievement was a discovery about black holes in 1974 that shook the world of physics. According to Einstein’s theory, nothing — including light — can escape from inside a black hole . That’s why it’s black. But Stephen found that black holes are not really completely black. Instead, due to the subtle consequences of quantum physics, they emit what we now call Hawking radiation. That insight ignited a controversy that still rages 44 years later, regarding what happens to information that falls into a black hole. If I drop my highly confidential diary into a black hole, will it be lost forever from the universe? Or will it emerge from the black hole hidden in the Hawking radiation , highly scrambled but decipherable in principle? We still don’t know the answer for sure, but Hawking’s breakthrough laid the foundation for much of the progress we’ve made on the greatest challenge facing fundamental physics: understanding how gravitational physics and quantum physics fit together.

While his scientific accomplishments alone would suffice to ensure an enduring legacy, Stephen Hawking also became one of the world’s most successful popularizers of science. Stephen firmly believed that the quest for a complete theory of the universe should be accessible to everyone, at least in broad principle, not just to a few specialists. That conviction drove him to write A Brief History of Time . While other scientists write books for lay readers, only Stephen seemed to earn tenure on the New York Times bestseller list, thanks in part to that ingenious title. The book sold over 10 million copies and was translated into dozens of languages. Its extraordinary success led to more books, including a series for children Stephen co-authored with his daughter Lucy.

And I haven’t even mentioned yet what made Stephen Hawking the most famous scientist in the world — he achieved scientific greatness despite a severe physical disability, all while displaying a zest for life and buoyant sense of humor that seemed miraculous under the circumstances. People rooted for Stephen, and he appreciated having millions of fans.

Stephen was fun to be with. I sensed when we first met that he would enjoy being treated irreverently. So in the middle of a scientific discussion I could interject, “And what makes you so sure of that, Mr. Know-It-All?” After a beat Stephen would respond with a glint in his eye: “Wanna bet?”

With our friend Kip Thorne, we made some of those bets “official,” and we were all taken aback by how much attention they received. Stephen conceded our most famous bet (regarding whether black holes destroy information) in 2004, before an audience in Dublin of 700 scientists and at least 50 reporters from print and electronic media. To pay off, he presented me with Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia . You can’t buy one of those in Ireland, so Stephen’s assistant had arranged to have it shipped overnight just in time. Not knowing what else to do, I held the book over my head as though I had just won the Wimbledon final, while a million flashbulbs were popping (it seemed like a million, anyway). One of those pictures wound up in Time .

We made bets for fun, but the scientific issues in question, founded on some of Stephen’s most far-reaching contributions, are ones many physicists passionately care about. Combining extraordinary depth of thought with an irrepressible sense of play , that’s what I’ll remember best about Stephen Hawking.

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best biography of stephen hawking

Stephen Hawking

Toggle-div#toggle"> 1940s: birth and childhood.

best biography of stephen hawking

It is a curious fact that Stephen William Hawking was born on 8th January 1942, exactly 300 years after the death of the Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei. Perhaps it seems a fitting symmetry. Often referred to as ‘the father of observational astronomy,’ Galileo was one of Stephen’s inspirations during his long career as a theoretical physicist and cosmologist. 

Stephen was born in Oxford during WWII, the eldest of four children to parents Dr Frank Hawking and Eileen Isobel Hawking. With his siblings, Stephen had a happy childhood mostly spent in Highgate, London and then in St. Albans, Hertfordshire. Stephen admitted to being a late developer and recalled that he was never more than halfway up the class at St Albans School. However, he developed an early curiosity as to how things work, saying later, ‘If you understand how the universe operates, you control it, in a way.’ His classmates called him ‘Einstein’ as they clearly saw the signs of genius in him, missed by his teachers.  While still at school, Stephen speculated about the origin of the universe with his friends and wondered whether God created it – “I wanted to fathom the depths of the universe.” This spirit of enquiry set the pattern for his academic career.

toggle-div#toggle"> 1960s: graduation from Oxford and the move to Cambridge

best biography of stephen hawking

Somewhat reluctantly, Stephen agreed to apply to his father’s college, University College, Oxford . Stephen wanted to read mathematics but his father, tropical medicine specialist Dr Frank Hawking, was adamant that there would be no jobs for mathematicians and Stephen should read medicine. They compromised on Natural Sciences and Stephen went up to Oxford at the young age of 17 in 1959. Despite claiming to do very little work, Stephen performed well enough in his written examinations to be called for a ‘viva’ (an interview) to determine which class of degree he should receive. Stephen told the examiners that if they awarded him a first-class degree he would leave Oxford and go to Cambridge but if he got a second, he would stay in Oxford. They duly gave him a first, as of course, he hoped they would. Stephen went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge in 1962.    However, while still an undergraduate, Stephen had begun to realise all was not well. He had become increasingly clumsy, was struggling with small tasks such as doing up his shoelaces and his movements were erratic and ungainly. After an accident at a skating lake in St Albans, his mother took him to Guy’s Hospital in London for tests. Soon after Stephen’s 21st birthday, these tests showed he had a progressive and incurable illness. These tests were exhaustive although primitive by today’s standards. Even after these were completed, oddly Stephen was not told his diagnosis. Eventually, he discovered he had motor neurone disease which slowly and inexorably erodes muscle control but leaves the brain intact. He was given only two years to live. Stephen later recalled that he became desperately demoralised at this time but he did find two sources of inspiration and solace: the intense music of Wagner (a subsequent lifelong passion) and falling in love with Jane Wilde, the woman who would become his wife. The young couple vowed to fight Stephen’s illness together. Stephen now had someone to live for, and in the manner typical of his stubbornness, he threw himself into his research – “To my surprise I found I liked it”, he said later. 

Despite his renewed enthusiasm, Stephen’s early career progressed erratically. In Cambridge, he had hoped to study under the most famous astronomer of the time, Fred Hoyle, but Professor Hoyle had too many students already and sent him to physicist and cosmologist Dennis Sciama instead.  Later, Stephen recognised this as a piece of luck which laid the foundation of his later career and said that he would have been unlikely to flourish under Hoyle’s supervision. In fact, the two clashed in public in 1964 when Stephen interrupted Fred Hoyle, during a lecture, to tell the famous scientist he had got something wrong. When Hoyle asked how he knew this, Stephen said, ‘Because I have worked it out’.  Sciama also introduced Stephen to Roger Penrose in 1965 when Penrose gave a talk on singularity theorems in Cambridge.  In that same year, Stephen received his Ph.D for his thesis entitled ‘Properties of Expanding Universes.’  This thesis was released in 2017 on the University of Cambridge’s website, causing the site to crash almost immediately due to the extraordinarily high demand.

In 1965, Stephen applied for a research fellowship at Gonville & Caius College in Cambridge and was accepted. He was to remain a fellow there for the rest of his life. Marriage to Jane and children followed; Robert (1967), Lucy (1970) and Timothy (1979). Supported and cared for by his wife, his loyal PhD students, friends, family, colleagues and his children, Stephen settled into day to day academic life, and continued working right up until his death in March 2018.

toggle-div#toggle"> Mid-60s to early-70s: serious career work

best biography of stephen hawking

The accolades began. In 1966 Stephen won the Adams Prize  for his essay entitled, ‘Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time’, and which formed the basis for his first academic book, co-authored with George Ellis, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time . This book remains in print today.

In 1969, during a trip to the USA, Stephen observed Joseph Weber’s early and rudimentary experiments for detecting gravitational waves. Stephen would have loved to conduct his own experiments in this new and exciting scientific area but understood that his disability was a barrier in that era. As ever, Stephen made an advantage out of what other people would perceive as a setback, arguing that a theorist can conclude an argument in an afternoon: an experiment can take years. “I was glad I remained a theorist”, he admitted afterwards. 

Against the background of increasing and fervent scientific discovery, Stephen began working on the basic laws that govern the universe – the field he had been obsessed with since he was a young schoolboy. Since their first meeting in 1965, Stephen and Roger Penrose had many discussions about singularity theorems which culminated in their joint paper in 1970. In that paper, Stephen showed that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. Together, Hawking and Penrose  developed a singularity theorem proving this theory and this led to Stephen’s ensuing fascination with black holes. His subsequent work in this area laid the foundations for today’s understanding of the universe and how it began.

toggle-div#toggle"> 1970s: ‘I was writing the rulebook for black holes’

best biography of stephen hawking

The 1970s were a prolific period of work. In 1970, shortly after the birth of his daughter and in a ‘eureka’ moment, Stephen realized, almost in an instant:  ●    that when black holes merge, the surface area of the final black hole must exceed the sum of the areas of the initial black holes,  ●    that this places limits on the amount of energy that can be carried away by gravitational waves in such a merger, ●    there are parallels to be drawn between the laws of thermodynamics and the behaviour of black holes.

In 1973, and at a bit of a loose end after the publication of his first book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time , Stephen decided the next step in his research would be to combine general relativity (the theory of the very large) with quantum theory (the theory of the very small). To his disbelief, it seemed that emissions could emanate from a black hole, that particles could escape, i.e. ‘radiate’ from a black hole’s event horizon, a revolutionary quantum effect that appeared to make a mockery of the laws of physics.  This research was published in 1974 by Nature as  ‘Black hole explosions?’ . However, when announced at a conference in Oxford, his theory was seen as controversial and angrily disputed. Now widely accepted and known as Hawking radiation , Stephen’s proposal unifies the seemingly impossible – general relativity with quantum theory, the large with the small. 

Despite their names becoming joined in a formula, Stephen and Jacob Bekenstein never actually worked together. In 1972, Bekenstein proposed that black holes have an entropy.  Bekenstein had a formula for entropy that said the entropy was proportional to the area of the event horizon but his numerical co-efficient was incorrect. Stephen did not believe this because black holes were thought to have zero temperatures. It was not until Stephen discovered black hole temperature that he came to believe that black holes have entropy. Stephen was able thereby to confirm the idea that black holes have entropy and fix the coefficient in Bekenstein’s formula.

S = Entropy A = The area of the horizon c = The speed of light G = Newton’s constant of gravitation  k = Boltzmann’s constant ħ = Planck’s constant

Stephen’s equation reveals a ‘deep and previously unexpected relationship between gravity and thermodynamics, the science of heat’. But it also raises questions – where does the information about the previously existing matter go when matter ‘disappears’ into a hole? And if information is lost, this is incompatible with quantum mechanics at least in its usual form. This is Stephen’s black hole ‘Information Paradox’ that violates a fundamental tenet of quantum mechanics and has led to decades of furious debate. 

The late 1970s were a golden age for Stephen’s academic career and for the field of theoretical physics in general. After being promoted to Reader in Gravitational Physics at Cambridge in 1975, and subsequently Professor of Gravitational Physics in 1977, in 1979 he was appointed as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics , a position he held until 2009. The chair was founded in 1663 with money left in the will of the Reverend Henry Lucas who had been the Member of Parliament for the University. Previously held by Isaac Newton in 1669, this chair was awarded to Stephen in recognition of his ground-breaking scientific work on black holes. In 1979 Stephen was also awarded the first, prestigious Albert Einstein medal, in recognition of ‘scientific findings, works or publications related to Albert Einstein’.  This was a period of intense speculation in physics and growing public interest in black holes. Journalists for print and television regularly interviewed Stephen - his name was becoming known.

toggle-div#toggle"> 1980s: A health crisis, and authorial success

best biography of stephen hawking

Stephen sought to understand the whole universe in scientific terms. As he said famously, ‘My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe.’ The singularity theorems proved by Stephen and Penrose had shown conclusively that the universe had a beginning in a Big Bang. But the singularity theorems did not say how the universe had begun. Rather, they showed something more sweeping: Einstein’s general relativity breaks down at the Big Bang, and quantum theory becomes important. Working with Jim Hartle, Stephen set out to use the techniques he had developed to understand the quantum dynamics of black holes, to describe the quantum birth of the universe. Stephen first put forward a proposal along these lines at a conference in the Vatican in 1981, where he suggested that the universe began with four space dimensions curled up as a sphere, without any boundary, which through a quantum transition gave rise to the universe with three space dimensions and one time dimension that we have today. Asking what came before the Big Bang, he famously said, `is like asking what lies South of the South Pole’.  Stephen and Hartle aptly called their model the no boundary wave function, or no boundary proposal, the first scientific model of the origin of the universe. 

Stephen continued to study the no boundary proposal throughout his career. He discovered that there was a profound connection between the no boundary wave function and cosmic inflation – the idea that our universe started with a rapid burst of expansion. In a series of papers over many years Stephen and his students consolidated this connection, showing that the no boundary proposal predicts an early period of inflation.  But the scientific importance of the no boundary proposal is not just as a successful theory of the origin of the basic structure of the universe. Perhaps even more important is the impact it has had on how we think about the universe, and our place in it. The no boundary proposal describes an ensemble of universes. Working with Thomas Hertog, Stephen showed this leads to what he called a `top-down approach to cosmology’, reconstructing the universe’s history backwards in time starting from our position within it. ‘The history of the universe depends on the question we ask,’ he used to say.

In 1982, a letter from Buckingham Palace arrived at Stephen’s family home in Cambridge to tell him he had been honoured with the award of a CBE - Commander of the British Empire. Stephen, despite his anti-establishment leanings, still felt proud to accept it as a mark of his outstanding achievement. The award also heralded the first of what would turn out to be many meetings with Her Majesty the Queen over the decades to come. But neither Stephen nor his family could have known that at the time, as the great scientist was constantly aware that each day could be his last.

Despite his condition, Stephen was an enthusiastic traveller, although his journeys did not always go smoothly. In 1985 Stephen contracted pneumonia on a trip to a science conference near Geneva. The Swiss doctors advised his wife, Jane, that recovery was impossible, and she should switch off Stephen’s ventilator which would have brought about his immediate death. Jane flatly refused and arranged for Stephen to be flown home to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. In order to save Stephen’s life, a tracheostomy was performed, which had the difficult side effect of taking away his natural speaking voice. After a frustrating period where he was only able to communicate with a spelling card and eyebrow movements, Stephen was relieved and delighted when technology came to his rescue. He worked closely with computer developers, latterly at Intel, to devise a computerised communication system and voice synthesiser that, with its famously flat American accent, quickly became his trademark. Stephen learned the art of brevity, of expressing complicated ideas and opinions in very few words. Using this system, Stephen not only wrote seven books and a number of scientific papers but developed his own style of dry, unanswerable wit. It was during this challenging period that Stephen began working on A Brief History of Time , an idea he first had in 1982.

Determined to write a book about physics that would sell at airport book shops, sharing the excitement of science with a general audience, Stephen toiled over A Brief History of Time for six years. His hard work paid off as this book became a surprise runaway best seller which also propelled him into an ever-widening public sphere with, at times, intense media speculation. A Newsweek cover at the time described him as a ‘Master of the Universe’. Helpfully, A Brief History of Time turns complicated scientific theories and projections into (mostly) everyday language: as Stephen said, “I think it is important for scientists to explain their work, particularly in cosmology”. Its resounding success led to a spot on the UK best-selling list for a record-breaking 4.5 years, translation into over 40 languages and sales of over 20 million copies. It was said that Stephen had answered the most fundamental questions of existence. Stephen had always firmly believed that everyone should have a basic understanding of science in this increasingly scientific and technological world and dedicated an enormous amount of time and effort in order to engage the general public with science. He has also co-authored  a series of six adventure novels about science with his daughter, Lucy Hawking, in order to make science entertaining and accessible to a young readership.  

toggle-div#toggle"> 1990s: Publishing success and a party no-one came to

best biography of stephen hawking

The 1990s were another period of relentless work academically and now, increasingly, as a popular author and celebrity. In 1993 he published Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays , a collection of works exploring ways in which the universe may be governed. This was followed in 1998 by Universe: The Cosmos Explained , clarifying the basis of our existence with more following in the 2000s – Universe in a Nutshell (2001), On the Shoulders of giants (2002) and The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe (2002). While these did not achieve the global accolade of A Brief History of Time , they all successfully contributed to our general body of scientific knowledge.

Academically, Stephen continued his work in physics and in 1993 co-edited a book on Euclidean quantum gravity with Gary Gibbons. In 1994 Stephen and Roger Penrose delivered a series of six lectures that were subsequently published in 1996 as The Nature of Space and Time , and Stephen enjoyed several of his now-famous scientific ‘bets’ he had with colleagues, notably with Kip Thorne and John Preskill at Caltech, and Peter Higgs over the existence of the Higgs Boson (Stephen lost that one). Stephen also married again in 1995 to Elaine Mason, a former nurse.

In 1990, with lifelong friend, the physicist Kip Thorne, Stephen approached the controversial notion of whether time travel is allowed by the laws of physics utilising the concept of wormholes, hypothetical tubes of space-time. Stephen concluded this serious analysis with the finding that although it may turn out that time travel is impossible, “… it is important that we understand why it is impossible.” As a later aside to this, nearly 20 years later Stephen planned a party for time travellers. He wrote invitations, set a date, time and venue and provided precise GPS coordinates. But he did not send out the invitations until after the party date was over. That way, only those who could genuinely travel back in time would know of it and be able to attend. On the due day Stephen sat politely and waited. But no-one came. And that was the point. “I have experimental evidence that time travel is not possible”, he said afterwards. And the champagne went back on ice.   

toggle-div#toggle"> 2000s: Debates and bets

best biography of stephen hawking

In a sensational scientific U-turn in 2004, Stephen announced he had solved the black hole information paradox he had identified in 1974, stating that black holes do not destroy all that is sucked into them and that information can be retrieved.  Conceding a bet with fellow scientists when he had previously argued to the contrary, Stephen and Kip Thorne awarded their American colleague, John Preskill, an encyclopaedia on baseball saying, that ‘(baseball) information can be retrieved at will’. At the time, Stephen confessed that saying information was lost in black holes was his biggest blunder. However, physicists continue to argue about whether information is lost in black holes or not. It is perhaps a tribute to Stephen’s genius that the discussion is still going on after almost half a century.

The marriage to Elaine broke down and the couple divorced in 2006. In April 2007, Stephen undertook a zero-gravity flight in a Boeing 727 jet in order to promote public interest in space travel and raise money for research into ALS. He had been invited by space pioneer and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis who founded the X Prize. A keen advocate of the need for space travel to find alternative planets for human habitation, Stephen remained in the air for two hours and underwent eight zero-gravity dives, allowing him to experience weightlessness and to be freed from the frustrating restrictions of his wheelchair. One of the most iconic of all the images of Stephen shows him floating, weightless, with an apple hovering above his shoulder and a huge smile on this face. He quipped afterwards, “Space, here I come. A zero-gravity flight is the first step towards space travel.” Stephen always hoped to make it into space himself one day. He was invited by Richard Branson to travel on Branson’s first space flight. Such was Stephen’s pioneering spirit, he accepted immediately. Sadly, Stephen never got the chance to fly in space.

Also in 2007, Stephen founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology , based in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, and set up to, ‘advance the scientific understanding of our universe, taking forward the vision of its founder.’ More recently, the Centre launched the Stephen Hawking Programme , a campaign to celebrate and memorialise Stephen's life and work through a programme of teaching, research and outreach. The programme will perpetuate Stephen's legacy and will ensure the vitality and excellence of its ongoing research in cosmology and gravitation.

In 2009, Stephen was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the highest civilian award in the United States. Received by very few scientists, it was given in recognition of his ‘persistence and dedication [which] has unlocked new pathways of discovery and inspired everyday citizens.’

toggle-div#toggle"> 2010s: ‘It has been a glorious time to be alive…’

best biography of stephen hawking

In  2012, in a dazzling, star-lit ceremony, Stephen opened the  Paralympics  in London’s Docklands to a packed stadium. Entitled ‘Enlightenment’, Stephen compared the entire event with some 3,000 performers promising an ‘evening of exploration’, as he exhorted the 62,000 spectators to ‘look up at the stars’.  As an addition to the fun-fest of the splendidly choreographed display by disabled athletes, Stephen’s appearance received loud applause when he said, “However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at. Good luck to you all…”.

In 2013, Stephen won one of the two  Breakthrough Prizes in Fundamental Physics  for his discovery of Hawking radiation from black holes, and for ‘his deep contributions to quantum gravity and quantum aspects of the early universe’. This award was especially treasured by Stephen as it validated his lifelong discoveries without the need for experimental confirmation that, in this case, is very difficult to achieve.  So difficult in fact, that this lack of experimental confirmation of Hawking radiation and other of his theories excluded Stephen from winning the Nobel prize for physics – the major disappointment in his academic life and career. 

In 2014, Stephen revised his theory about the information paradox, even writing that, ‘there are no black holes’ – or at least in the way that cosmologists traditionally understand them. His theory removed the existence of an ‘event horizon’, the point where nothing can escape. Instead, he proposed that there would be an ‘apparent horizon’ that would alter according to quantum changes within the black hole. But the theory, too, remains controversial.

That same year saw the release of  The Theory of Everything , the film of Stephen’s life which opened to great critical acclaim. Based on the personal memoir of Stephen’s wife, Jane, the film garnered major awards, resulting in an Oscar for actor, Eddie Redmayne, who perfectly captured not only Stephen’s declining health but his wit, determination, stubbornness and single-minded pursuit of scientific knowledge. Stephen was initially cautious about the film but once he met Redmayne and read the script, he changed his view and allowed the film to use his synthesised voice. Overall both Stephen and Jane were pleased with the film although Stephen would have liked it to contain more physics. Its success brought Stephen’s academic discoveries to a wider public and further underlined his innate humanity. 

Stephen celebrated his 75th birthday in January 2017, an incredible achievement for someone who was told he had two years to live in 1962. Cambridge University marked this august occasion with an international conference entitled  ‘Gravity and Black Holes’ , held in July at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences. Twenty renowned scientists gave papers at the three-day conference. At the time, Stephen said, “It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics. Our picture of the Universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I’m happy if I’ve made a small contribution.” And he said he wanted others to feel the passion he has for understanding the universal laws that govern us all. “I want to share my excitement and enthusiasm about this quest. So, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Also in 2017 Stephen co-authored a paper with Malcolm Perry (Cambridge) and Professor Andrew Strominger (Harvard) entitled ‘Soft Hair on Black Holes’ , purporting to make progress towards an ultimate solution to the black hole information paradox. Refuting Stephen’s earlier argument claiming that information was irretrievably lost in black holes the paper identifies how information is not lost but is ‘contained’ within strands surrounding the black hole’s edge, the event horizon.

In November 2017, Stephen made what would become his last public appearance to a packed Union chamber when he gave the inaugural speech for the Cambridge Union Society’s announcement of its Professor Hawking Fellowship. The Fellowship is designed to celebrate STEM disciplines and acknowledges those individuals who, according to Lord Smith of Finsbury, chair of the Union’s trustees, ‘… have changed the world through the application of science and technology’. In 2019, the choice of Hawking Fellow was Bill Gates.

On 14th March 2018, Professor Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge (in a strange tribute, this date is also the birthday of Albert Einstein). At the private funeral in Cambridge, the streets thronged with admirers and fans who saw Stephen as very much ‘one of their own’. His impressive but poignant  memorial service  held on 15th June 2018 in Westminster Abbey was a more formal affair with luminaries from academia around the world paying tribute to Stephen’s scientific legacy. However, at both ceremonies, there was much emphasis on Stephen’s humanity, his humour, his family (he was a devoted family man with three much-loved children and grandchildren) and his charitable work, mostly for the disabled community and education. His ashes are interred next to Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The words on Stephen’s grave stone are a direct translation from the Latin of those on Isaac Newton’s grave – ‘Here lies what was mortal of…..’

There is a postscript. In October 2018,  John Murray published Stephen’s posthumous popular book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. This book was a project that Stephen had begun in his lifetime, to bring his writings for a general audience together into one definitive volume. While the manuscript remained unfinished at the time of Stephen’s death, his colleagues, family and friends collaborated in order to publish this collection of short essays on the questions that Stephen was so frequently asked during his lifetime. It felt important to those who had been close to Stephen for so many years that his theories, thoughts and ideas were published in order that he himself should define his legacy. Brief Answers to the Big Questions has been a best seller in 45 countries and sold 2.5 million copies since publication, showing that Stephen’s influence and brilliance remain undimmed, even though he is no longer with us.

Finally, two posthumous papers appeared. The first in April 2018 was written with Thomas Hertog. Stephen details his last theory on the origin of the Universe, based on the concept of eternal inflation which lays the ground for the existence of parallel universes. It argues there are many universes other than our own. The paper is entitled “A Smooth Exit From Inflation” and its latest revisions were made on 4th March, ten days before Stephen died.

When Stephen died, there was a paper in preparation with Sasha Haco, a graduate students, Malcolm Perry and Andrew Strominger. In this paper, an explanation of how black hole entropy arises at the microscopic level is proposed. If the ideas in this paper hold water, then it gives insight into the information paradox and how it might be resolved. As Stephen’s lifelong friend, the physicist Kip Thorne said at Stephen’s memorial service at Westminster Abbey ‘Stephen gave us big questions.” As more work is done on Stephen’s theories over the decades and centuries to come, we may find that Stephen gave us the answers as well. We just need to be smart enough to find them.

toggle-div#toggle"> Career

Research Fellow, Gonville and Caius Coll., 1965–69; Fellow for distinction in science, 1969–; Mem. Inst. of Theoretical Astronomy, Cambridge, 1968–72; Research Asst, Inst. of Astronomy, Cambridge, 1972–73; Cambridge University: Research Asst, Dept of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics, 1973–75; Reader in Gravitational Physics, 1975–77, Professor, 1977–79. Fairchild Distinguished Schol., Calif Inst. of Technol., 1974–75. Reith Lectr, 2015. Mem., Pontical Acad. of Scis, 1986–; Foreign Mem., Amer. Acad. of Arts and Scis, 1984; Internat. Mem. (formerly Foreign Mem.), Amer. Philosophical Soc., 1985. Hon. Mem., RAS (Can), 1985. Hon. DSc: Oxon, 1978; Newcastle, Leeds, 1987; Cambridge, 1989; hon. degrees: Chicago, 1981; Leicester, New York, Notre Dame, Princeton, 1982; Tufts, Yale, 1989; Harvard, 1990. (Jtly) Eddington Medal, RAS, 1975; Pius XI Gold Medal, Pontical Acad. of Scis, 1975; Dannie Heinemann Prize for Math. Phys., Amer. Phys. Soc. and Amer. Inst. of Physics, 1976; William Hopkins Prize, Cambridge Philosoph. Soc., 1976; Maxwell Medal, Inst. of Physics, 1976; Hughes Medal, Royal Soc., 1976; Albert Einstein Award, 1978; Albert Einstein Medal, Albert Einstein Soc., Berne, 1979; Franklin Medal, Franklin Inst., USA, 1981; Gold Medal, RAS, 1985; Paul Dirac Medal and Prize, Inst. of Physics, 1987; (jtly) Wolf Foundn Prize for Physics, 1988; Britannica Award, 1989; Prince of Asturias Foundn Award, Spain, 1989; Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize, 1999; Klein Medal, Nobel Inst., 2003; Michelson Award, Case Western Univ., 2003; James Smithson Bicentennial Medal, Smithsonian Inst., Washington, 2005; Copley Medal, Royal Soc., 2006; Fonseca Prize, Univ. of Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 2008; US Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2009; Cosmos Award for outstanding public presentation of Science, Planetary Soc., 2010; Special Fundamental Physics Prize, Fundamental Physics Prize Foundn, 2012

Who was Professor Stephen Hawking?

This is professor stephen hawking..

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

  • Born January 8 , 1942 · Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, UK
  • Died March 14 , 2018 · Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, UK (Lou Gehrig's Disease)
  • Birth name Stephen William Hawking
  • Height 5′ 11¾″ (1.82 m)
  • Stephen William Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 on Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. He was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. 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. 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. In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009 and achieved commercial success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; his book "A Brief History of Time" appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks. At the release party for the home video version of A Brief History of Time (1991) , Leonard Nimoy , who had played Spock on Star Trek (1966) , learned that Hawking was interested in appearing on the series. Nimoy made the necessary contact, and Hawking played a holographic simulation of himself in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) in 1993. The same year, his synthesizer voice was recorded for the song "Keep Talking" by the rock band Pink Floyd , and in 1999 for an appearance on The Simpsons (1989) . Hawking also guest-starred on Futurama (1999) and The Big Bang Theory (2007) . Hawking allowed the use of his copyrighted voice in the biographical drama The Theory of Everything (2014) , in which he was portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in an Academy Award-winning role. Hawking died at age 76 in his home in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, early in the morning of 14 March 2018. - IMDb Mini Biography By: Pedro Borges
  • Spouses Elaine Mason (September 16, 1995 - 2006) (divorced) Jane Hawking (July 14, 1965 - 1995) (divorced, 3 children)
  • Children Robert Hawking Lucy Hawking Timothy Hawking
  • His computerized voice box for communicating
  • Often made philosophical predictions regarding astrophysics
  • His work often focused on black holes
  • Well-known for his self-deprecating humor where he frequently makes jokes about his ailment and physical appearance.
  • He appeared as guest star on a Star Trek episode, and asked the crew to make a tour of the U.S.S. Enterprise. When he saw the warp drive, he said "I'm working on that...".
  • He occupied the same post, as Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, as was earlier occupied by Sir Isaac Newton.
  • He was a huge fan of Star Trek (1966) and the only person ever to play himself in any Star Trek film or series. He was also a huge fan of Doctor Who (1963) and Red Dwarf (1988) .
  • On account of the American accent on his voice synthesizer, many people have no idea that he was really English. He had said he would like to replace it with a synthesizer with an English accent, but he had become so synonymous with his that he knew he couldn't.
  • He played himself in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) , The Simpsons (1989) , Futurama (1999) and The Big Bang Theory (2007) .
  • I think that computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We've created life in our own image.
  • To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.
  • We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.
  • My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.
  • Some of our greatest catastrophes have been caused by people talking, and some by people not talking.

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10 facts about Stephen Hawking

Learn about one of the most influential scientists of our time….

On 14 March 2018, Stephen Hawking passed away aged 76. Meet the inspirational British scientist in our Stephen Hawking facts..

Stephen Hawking facts

Stephen Hawking facts

Full name: Stephen William Hawking Born: 8 January 1942 Hometown: Oxford, England Occupation: Scientist Died: 14 March 2018 Best known for: His work on explaining the origins of the universe and black holes

Stephen Hawking facts

1) Stephen grew up in a house where education was very important. His parents were both academics who had studied at Oxford University . Dinner times were often spent in silence while the family read books!

2) When he was a teenager, Stephen and his friends built a computer out of old clock parts, telephone switchboards and other recycled items. His friends nicknamed him, ‘ Einstein ‘!

3) When Stephen was 17, he went to Oxford University to study physics and chemistry . He later said that he found his first year very boring! After graduating from Oxford, he went to  Cambridge University to further his studies in cosmology (the science of the origin of the universe).

4) Sadly, when he was 21 , Stephen was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) and told that he only had two years to live . MND gradually affects the brain cells that communicate with the body’s muscles. Over time, sufferers struggle to walk, talk and even swallow without help.

5) Stephen used walking sticks and crutches after his diagnosis, but as his illness got worse he had to use an electric wheelchair to get around. He became notorious for driving it a little too fast around the streets of Cambridge and running over other students’ toes!

Stephen Hawking facts

6) Stephen made many important contributions to the world of science . He developed  theories about how the world began and furthered our understanding of black holes , stars and the universe.

7) Stephen was always keen for his work to be accessible to everyone, not just scientists. He wrote books that explained his theories in simple terms for everyone to understand, including a children’s book. His most famous book, A Brief History of Time , sold more than 10 million copies !

8) In 1985 , Stephen developed a life-threatening infection. He had an emergency operation that saved his life but left him unable to talk. He was given a  special computer that talked for him, which he controlled by moving a muscle in his cheek – clever !

9) Stephen has received many awards for his work including the 1979 Albert Einstein Medal , the Order of the British Empire (Commander) in 1982 and the 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics.

10) Stephen is remembered as an inspiration to many people. He had an amazing mind, incredible determination and didn’t let his illness stand in his way. He defied doctors’ predictions, living for a further 55 years after his diagnosis.

Stephen Hawking facts

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Steven Hawking died on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76

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He is just the acronym for beyond awesomeness. by end of the last fact in this page im just crying by knowing how greatful he is. salute tou you sir. You are just one of the amazing creature that this universe is ever gifted. With Lots of Love nad respect kiran

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Its sad he died,but lived more than I was expecting.

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Thanks Stephen for the amazing things and the courage you show to all of us. Your determination change the way we look at the cosmos.

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  • World Biography

Stephen Hawking Biography

Born: January 8, 1942 Oxford, England English scientist, physicist, and mathematician

British physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking has made fundamental contributions to the science of cosmology—the study of the origins, structure, and space-time relationships of the universe.

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. His father, a well-known researcher in tropical medicine, urged his son to seek a career in medicine, but Stephen found biology and medicine were not exact enough. Therefore, he turned to the study of mathematics and physics.

Hawking was not an outstanding student at St. Alban's School, nor later at Oxford University, which he entered in 1959. He was a social young man who did little schoolwork because he was able to grasp the essentials of a mathematics or physics problem quickly. At home he reports, "I would take things apart to see how they worked, but they didn't often go back together." His early school years were marked by unhappiness at school, with his peers and on the playing field. While at Oxford he became increasingly interested in physics (study of matter and energy), eventually graduating with a first class honors in physics (1962). He immediately began postgraduate studies at Cambridge University.

Graduate school

The onset of Hawking's graduate education at Cambridge marked a turning point in his life. It was then that he embarked upon the formal study of cosmology, which focused his study. And it was then that he was first stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease, a weakening disease of the nervous and muscular system that eventually led to his total confinement in a wheelchair. At Cambridge his talents were recognized, and he was encouraged to carry on his studies despite his growing physical disabilities. His marriage in 1965 was an important step in his emotional life. Marriage gave him, he recalled, the determination to live and make professional progress in the world of science. Hawking received his doctorate degree in 1966. He then began his lifelong research and teaching association with Cambridge University.

Theory of singularity

Hawking made his first major contribution to science with his idea of singularity, a work that grew out of his collaboration (working relationship) with Roger Penrose. A singularity is a place in either space or time at which some quantity becomes infinite (without an end). Such a place is found in a black hole, the final stage of a collapsed star, where the gravitational field has infinite strength. Penrose proved that a singularity could exist in the space-time of a real universe.

Drawing upon the work of both Penrose and Albert Einstein (1879–1955), Hawking demonstrated that our universe had its origins in a singularity. In the beginning all of the matter in the universe was concentrated in a single point, making a very small but tremendously dense body. Ten to twenty billion years ago that body exploded in a big bang that initiated time and the universe. Hawking was able to produce current astrophysical (having to do with the study of stars and the events that occur around them) research to support the big bang theory of the origin of the universe and oppose the competing steady-state theory.

Hawking's research led him to study the characteristics of the best-known singularity: the black hole. A black hole's edges, called the event horizon, can be detected. Hawking proved that the surface area (measurement of the surface) of the event horizon could only increase, not decrease, and that when two black holes merged the surface area of the new hole was larger than the sum of the two original.

Hawking's continuing examination of the nature of black holes led to two important discoveries. The first, that black holes can give off heat, opposed the claim that nothing could escape from a black hole. The second concerned the size of black holes. As originally conceived, black holes were immense in size because they were the end result of the collapse of gigantic stars. Hawking suggested the existence of millions of mini-black holes formed by the force of the original big bang explosion.

Stephen Hawking. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

Unified field theory

In the 1980s Hawking answered one of Einstein's unanswered theories, the famous unified field theory. A complete unified theory includes the four main interactions known to modern physics. The unified theory explains the conditions that were present at the beginning of the universe as well as the features of the physical laws of nature. When humans develop the unified field theory, said Hawking, they will "know the mind of God."


As Hawking's physical condition grew worse his intellectual achievements increased. He wrote down his ideas in A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. It sold over a million copies and was listed as the best-selling nonfiction book for over a year.

In 1993 Hawking wrote Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, which, in addition to his scientific thoughts, contains chapters about Hawking's personal life. He coauthored a book in 1996 with Sir Roger Penrose titled The Nature of Space and Time. Issues discussed in this book include whether the universe has boundaries and if it will continue to expand forever. Hawking says yes to the first question and no to the second, while Penrose argues the opposite. Hawking joined Penrose again the following year in the creation of another book, The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (1997). In 2002 he was likewise celebrating the publication of The Universe in a Nutshell. Despite decreasing health, Hawking traveled on the traditional book release circuit. People with disabilities look to him as a hero.

Honors and commitments

Hawking's work in modern cosmology and in theoretical astronomy and physics is widely recognized. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1974 and five years later was named to a professorial chair at Cambridge University that was once held by Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Beyond these honors he has earned a host of honorary degrees, awards, prizes, and lectureships from the major universities and scientific societies of Europe and America. By the end of the twentieth century Stephen Hawking had become one of the best-known scientists in the world. His popularity includes endorsing a wireless Internet connection and speaking to wheelchair-bound youth. He also had a special appearance on the television series Star Trek.

Though very private, it is generally known that Stephen's first marriage ended in 1991. He has three children from that marriage.

When asked about his objectives, Hawking told Zygon in a 1995 interview, "My goal is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all."

For More Information

Ferguson, Kitty. Stephen Hawking: A Quest for a Theory of the Universe. New York: F. Watts, 1991.

Henderson, Harry. Stephen Hawking. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1995.

McDaniel, Melissa. Stephen Hawking: Revolutionary Physicist. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.

White, Michael, and John Gribbin. Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science. New York: Viking, 1992.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:, other articles you might like:.

Stephen Hawking

  • Occupation: Scientist and astrophysicist
  • Born: January 8, 1942 in Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Died: March 14, 2018 in Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • Best known for: Hawking radiation and the book A Brief History of Time

Hawking with Obama at the White House

  • He was born on the 300th anniversary of the death of the famous scientist Galileo .
  • He has been married twice and has three children.
  • Stephen has been on several TV shows including The Simpsons and the Big Bang Theory .
  • The book A Brief History of Time only has one equation, Einstein's famous E = mc 2 .
  • Hawking has co-written several children's books with his daughter Lucy including George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt and George and the Big Bang .
  • He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
  • He hoped to travel to space one day and trained with NASA on their zero gravity aircraft.
  • Listen to a recorded reading of this page:

Market Realist

Market Realist

What Was Stephen Hawking’s Net Worth?

Posted: November 22, 2023 | Last updated: November 22, 2023

What Was Stephen Hawking's Net Worth?

Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist and author, had a net worth of $20 million at the time of his passing. His wealth was earned through various endeavors, primarily stemming from his exceptional contributions to the field of theoretical cosmology. Hawking's groundbreaking research on black holes and the concept of Hawking Radiation propelled him to celebrity status in the scientific community. His essay "Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time" won the prestigious Adams Prize.

What Were Stephen Hawking's Sources of Income?

Hawking served as the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and held the prestigious position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, where he contributed significantly to cosmology. He found success as an author, particularly with his book "A Brief History of Time," which became a bestseller in 237 weeks. Furthermore, his popular books, including "Black Holes and Baby Universes," "The Universe in a Nutshell," and "My Brief History," continued to contribute to his income.

Stephen Hawking was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Hawking ventured into the world of films and series with titles featuring or inspired by him, including A Brief History of Time" (1992), "Hawking" (a BBC television film in 2004 starring Benedict Cumberbatch), and "The Theory of Everything" (2014), a feature film starring Eddie Redmayne. He appeared in various series like "Stephen Hawking's Universe," "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking," and "The Big Bang Theory" .

Hawking's income was significantly influenced by the success of his books. His renowned work, "A Brief History of Time," sold 10 million copies and was translated into 40 languages. Hawking made anywhere between £2 million and £4 million from this book. In 2004, he received $2 million for endorsing various British businesses on television, including an eyeglass store chain. As a professor at Cambridge University, he likely earned an annual salary exceeding $110,000.

A Look At Stephen Hawking’s Assets

Hawking and his second wife Elaine Mason owned a chalet-style home in Newnham, a prestigious area of Cambridge, which was estimated to be worth $3.6 million.

Social Media Following

Health issues.

Hawking faced a daunting health challenge during his graduate studies when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a debilitating neurodegenerative condition that gradually leads to the loss of motor function. His initial symptoms included increased clumsiness, slurred speech, and mobility issues. This devastating diagnosis arrived in 1963 when he was just 21 years old, and doctors gave him a bleak life expectancy of only two years. Remarkably, his disease progressed slowly than anticipated, defying the initial prognosis. Although he became almost entirely paralyzed, his indomitable spirit endured, and he communicated through a speech-generating device.

Personal Life

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, United Kingdom. His family highly valued education, and it was his mathematics teacher at St. Albans who helped him build a computer from various spare parts. With a natural talent for science and math, he pursued a major in mathematics during college, receiving a scholarship to Oxford in 1959. Hawking met Jane Wilde in 1962 and married her in 1965. They had three children: Robert, Lucy, and Timothy.

Their marriage faced challenges, particularly due to Hawking's celebrity status and the intrusion of nurses and assistants. In 1990, Hawking revealed his intent to leave Jane for one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, whom he married in 1995. This period led to strained relationships with his family. Hawking and Mason divorced in 2006, after which he reconnected with Jane, his children, and grandchildren.

Stephen Hawking was a recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honors throughout his distinguished career. Some of the notable recognitions include his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1984), the American Philosophical Society (1984), and the United States National Academy of Sciences (1992). In 2015, he received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences, and in 2016, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement award at the Pride of Britain Awards.

What was the focus of Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking research?

Stephen Hawking's pioneering work centered on the nature of black holes and their impact on the laws of physics, including his famous prediction of Hawking radiation emitted by black holes.

Why was Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer significant?

Stephen Hawking's voice synthesizer, particularly the "Perfect Paul" voice, allowed him to communicate effectively as his motor neuron disease progressed.

What was Stephen Hawking's involvement with music?

Stephen Hawking had a passion for music and played the saxophone, occasionally performing with famous artists like Pink Floyd and composing his own music.

A Billion-Dollar Beat: Top 10 Artists with the Most Valuable Music Catalogs

What Was Stephen Hawking’s Net Worth?

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