Honourable Innovators – Stephen Hawking
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” – Stephen Hawking
After his recent passing, we decided to take a look back at Stephen Hawking’s life. Hawking undoubtedly contributed his fair share to society in his 76 years on this planet, but he is seen as an inspiration for so much more than just his theories.
Who was Stephen Hawking?
Stephen William Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author. He was also Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. His scientific works included 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.
But what is it that makes him so special?
Stephen Hawking is known for his appearance. You can recognise him due to his disability. Hawking had a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease), that gradually paralysed him over the decades.
Throughout his young adult-life, Hawking’s condition deteriorated. He went from being a young man pursuing his passions and enjoying college life – to a wheelchair-bound cripple. For many of us, this would force us into a state of ubiquitous darkness. How do you come back from that? It’s impossible for most of us to even comprehend what one goes through seeing their body give up them in such an extreme manner.
The diagnosis of motor neurone disease came when Hawking was 21, in 1963. At the time, doctors gave him a life expectancy of two years. 55 years later, Hawking finally passes, leaving behind him a legacy no one else can ever match. Not only did he contribute his life to the development of modern day science, his life tells a story that we can all draw inspiration from.
A lot of you reading this are probably around the same age as Hawking when he was diagnosed with his illness. Ask yourself how you would react in this situation. I’d say half of us would consider taking our own lives. What this man has proven is that no matter what adversity you face in life, it doesn’t matter. There is literally always something you can do about it. Never let your life be defined by what happens to you, it should be defined by how you react to it.
You may receive the worst possible hand. Life may not seem worth living at times. But you have no good enough reason to give up. Complaining will never ever provide you with a better outcome.
I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.
Contributions to humanity
Professor Stephen Hawking’s contributions in cosmology, astrophysics, in the deep understanding of the nature of black holes, phenomena associated with black holes, quantum gravity, attempts to unify the twin towers of physics, namely, relativity and quantum mechanics, key aspects of the superstring theory(the theory of everything) are enormous.
He is one of the first to realise that the traditional view of black holes as entities from which light and EM waves could not escape, needed to be revised based on the results he was getting from his calculations, which arose from quantum mechanical principles as applied to general relativity in the development of the theory of black holes, and their evolution and fate.
He was a pioneer in this along with Beckenstein, and Zeldovich. This was one of the first attempts to unify quantum mechanics and general relativity through the applications of both fields in the understanding of black holes… It led him to conclude that black holes emit radiation, EM waves from quantum scattering effects in the event horizon. The event horizon is the boundary beyond which nothing can escape from the interior of the black hole, strictly speaking. The EM waves that are emitted and radiation are not in the visible spectrum, and hence can not be visualised.
Stephen Hawking’s Influence on Modern Science
He showed that this was a major way that black holes could loose energy though slowly, with mass, or particles converting to energy following Einstein’s universal mass-energy relationship… It could lead to a form of “evaporation” phenomenon of black holes, more so for the smaller sized black holes, stellar black holes, where these entities would slowly lose mass/energy through emission of EM waves/radiation.
This phenomenon is called the Hawking-Zeldovich radiation, or the Hawking-Beckenstein radiation, or just Hawking radiation.
His Theory on Black Holes
One of the amazing thoughts he entertained in figuring out that black holes must emit radiation, is what might have happened in the early universe… The thought was highly original and revolutionary.
He thought that if all the atoms that came to be were actually like highly miniature black holes with the nuclei acting as the dense cores, or singularities, and electrons as matter or energy around the dense cores not able to exit out, in an ‘event-horizon-like’ state, then just as atomic orbitals radiate energy, EM waves, the black holes should be able to do the same !! It was a brilliant empiric comparison between two highly varied physical phenomena. Stephen Hawking related the world of the ultra-small, to the world of the very large and massive entities.
His Early Years
Stephen Hawking thought of this in his early university years when he was in his late teens. The Fundamental physics prize was given to him in 2012. This was for his outstanding and deep contributions to the understanding of black holes, cosmology. This along with quantum gravity, and quantum state of the the early universe. The Queen of England offered him a knighthood which he declined. One of Stephen Hawking’s extraordinary abilities was how he could rapidly visualise the final solution of a complex problem. He could do so without going through intermediate steps discretely, or any necessary experiments.
He could do it in his head, a cerebral experience that partly became second nature to him with his gradual physical shut down… A genius of which there is no doubt, one of the greatest theoretical physicists, and cosmologists of the present times. He was a fearless thinker. One who could bring highly complicated scientific concepts to the masses.
The Influence of Stephen Hawking
Generations of bright young students took up physics and mathematics because of his great influence. Stephen Hawking brought science to the people through remarkably popular books. These included his runaway bestseller ‘A brief history of time’. Interestingly his genius was not evident in school. In university, he started getting into more mathematics, physics, and astrophysics/cosmology. Remember Hawking as the most remarkable scientist of great genius and limitless mental strength to rise above the greatest degree of bodily adversity to become emblematic of the unflinching power of the mind… No he did not die, he became a greater part of the cosmos… He will always be there.
SJB & GQ