Occupation: Physicist & Author
Year born: 1942
Research Areas: Cosmology, Theoretical Physics
"All my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them."
Source: Stephen Hawking’s Universe (1997) PBS October, 1997
Stephen was born in 1942 in Oxford, UK during World War II. He decided that he wanted to study mathematics at university, but his father wanted him to choose medicine instead. He was accepted into University College Oxford but because they did not offer a degree in mathematics, Stephen chose to study physics. After three years (and, in his words, "not very much work"), he graduated with a first-class honours degree in natural sciences. From there, he went on to study cosmology at Cambridge University. Stephen earned a PhD and eventually became a professor, staying at Cambridge University for many years.
Stephen is one of the most brilliant physicists in history. He carried out ground-breaking research on the physics of the Universe but also wrote popular science books that appealed to all, not just to scientists.
Stephen's research focused on the basic laws which govern our Universe. Alongside Roger Penrose, he showed that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implied if space and time had a beginning, it must have an end. Stephen’s most famous discovery is that of Hawking radiation: the idea that black holes are not completely black but emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. He also theorised that the Universe has no boundary. Just like you can travel around the surface of the Earth indefinitely and never reach 'an end'.
In 1963, shortly after his 21st birthday, Stephen was diagnosed with ALS, a form of motor neurone disease. He was given a life expectancy of two years but lived for many many more years. After the loss of his speech in 1985, Stephen used a computerised voice system for communication. He was actively involved in research and public engagement throughout his life and was Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge at the time of his death in 2018.
Stephen’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ was a best-seller for a record-breaking 237 weeks (that’s over 4.5 years!). Stephen was awarded 12 honorary degrees, and many distinguished awards during his career such as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and Companion of Honour. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences. Stephen’s life was dramatized in the 2014 film ‘A Theory of Everything’.
Stephen loved to travel and dreamed of going to space one day. He never got to space but he did go to many places including Antarctica, Easter Island, diving in a submarine and flying on a zero-gravity flight.