Gaining celebrity nowadays seems to be a goal among many and fairly attainable, whether it be by insta-fame viral content or by signing on to a reality television show. But to be celebrated for your intellect first, gaining notoriety in a field of study, and then joining the entertainment universe? That doesn’t happen every day and it doesn’t happen to every scientist or physicist. But it did happen to Professor Stephen Hawking, PhD, theoretical physicist and cosmologist.
About Stephen Hawking
With modern pop culture embracing Stephen William Hawking, it may be possible that someone doesn’t exactly know why they know of Hawking or they may not know more than the fact that he was a scientist in a wheelchair that talked with a computer. For those that do not know, Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, to Frank and Isobel Hawking. Both of his parents attended the University of Oxford and met during World War II. His childhood, as described in his biographies, was spent in an eccentric household that placed a high regard on education. Hawking’s school career was rocky, but once he found his passion (mathematics), he began to focus. Unable to study math at the University of Oxford, Hawking pursued physics and chemistry, graduating with a first-class Bachelors with honors. He then moved on to the University of Cambridge to study cosmology (the study of the universe) for his doctorate. It was during his studies, at age 21, when he was diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease (the disease, as many may remember, was the focus of the Ice Bucket Challenge a few years ago). He was given two years to live and subsequently battled depression before marrying his first wife, Jane Wilde. Due to the nature of the slow progression of his disease, Hawking was able to continue studying and theorizing and lecturing. It was his revolutionary work, and publicly clashing with the professors and students over their theories, that gained him notoriety. Stephen Hawking’s work over the next several decades expanded our knowledge of black holes and theorized the existence of radiations emitted from them; the resulting radiation was subsequently named Hawking Radiation, after him. For a quick 90-second lesson on black holes, the BBC has an animation based on a Reith Lecture from Hawking. In addition to black holes research, Hawking worked to better understand gravity and the origin of the universe itself (a summary of his work can be read on Wikipedia).
Though there are many documentaries surrounding the man’s work, there is a single full length feature film about his life: The Theory of Everything. This film, released in 2014, is based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, a revised memoir by Jane. Hawking allowed the use of his unique speech-to-text voice for the film that starred Eddie Redmayne as Hawking for which Redmayne won an Oscar.
An interesting fact: Professor Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo Galilei‘s death. In a twist of fate, his death (today, March 14, 2018) coincides with what would have been Albert Einstein‘s 139th birthday.
A Science Fiction Lover with Appearances in Popular Culture
As a college student, Hawking developed a love of science fiction. That love never left him and a chance encounter with Leonard Nimoy led to a guest role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as himself, aboard the Enterprise in the holodeck, in Season 6, Episode 26, “Descent”. Watch the scene below where Hawking joins Albert Einstein (Jim Norton) and Sir Isaac Newton (John Neville) in a game of poker with Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner). In addition to his appearance within the show, Star Trek embraced Hawking throughout the franchise: two separate ships have been named after the physicist in Star Trek: The Next Generation and in Star Trek: Generations; Hawking was the subject of a school lesson (shown in the background) on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; and in Star Trek: Discovery, a variation on Hawking Radiation is mentioned as a problem that can destroy a ship traveling with the experimental spore drive.
Star Trek was his first appearance outside of documentaries, interviews, and science based educational material. Hawking went on to be an animated character in Futurama and The Simpsons and had a recurring role on The Big Bang Theory. The clip below is from The Simpsons, a show that Hawking himself praised as “the best thing on American television” (during the same interview as the quote, Hawking theorized that he is known as much for his work as he is for his appearance on The Simpsons).
Stephen Hawking was a Children’s Book Author
In addition to his lectures and educational works, Hawking worked with his daughter, Lucy Hawking, and illustrator
The World’s Reaction
With the passing of such a prominent figure in the world, it is hard to miss the outpouring of love for the physicist. From President Barack Obama to fellow scientists, including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield, to actors that sat alongside him, see how the world mourns Professor Stephen Hawking’s passing:
Have fun out there among the stars. pic.twitter.com/S285MTwGtp
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 14, 2018
Genius is so fine and rare. Goodbye Professor Hawking. You inspired and taught us all. pic.twitter.com/9Drdnv2eEe
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) March 14, 2018
His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018. pic.twitter.com/nAanMySqkt
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018
As sad as the loss Stephen Hawking is I am so glad he got to see and be part of so much of our growth. Going to science extra hard tomorrow.
— Bobak Ferdowsi (@tweetsoutloud) March 14, 2018
Terribly sad to hear of the death of Stephen Hawking. Reading about his work made me realize my dream was to become a cosmologist, and I did. I met him on several occasions: first as a star-struck 14-year-old, later as a colleague. His influence was immense and he will be missed.
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) March 14, 2018
Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014 pic.twitter.com/FeR4fd2zZ5
— NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018
Farewell Stephen Hawking. A great man. Honored to have spent time with him. RIP.
— Brent Spiner (@BrentSpiner) March 14, 2018
My heart feels heavy today. Stephen Hawking was such a big part of our show, these character’s lives, and, my own. Though his body may be gone- his spirit remains in every facet of our universe. Let death be a reminder of our mortality- spend every waking moment spreading love 🙂
— Kunal Nayyar (@kunalnayyar) March 14, 2018
As we near Pi day (3.14) I join the global community in mourning the loss of the greatest physicist of our era. #StephenHawking is free from the physical constraints of this earthly condition we all exist in and he is soaring above us now marveling at it all. pic.twitter.com/o3V0TZrppj
— Mayim Bialik (@missmayim) March 14, 2018
Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of The Simpsons pic.twitter.com/po3fIHgEdh
— Matt Selman (@mattselman) March 14, 2018
Farewell, Professor Stephen Hawking
Geek Girl Authority wishes to extend our own condolences to the family of Stephen Hawking. His work (aired over PBS before the internet granted access to more) has fascinated us through our childhoods and helped push some of us into the sciences. We look forward to seeing where his research, in the hands of the next generation, takes us.
We also wish to leave you with two of his quotes:
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. - The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.
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