News / Science & Technology

Despite Paralysis, Hawking's Mind Soars

Despite Paralyzing Disease, Hawking's Mind Soarsi
X
January 07, 2013 7:44 PM
British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has done a lot of thinking about the nature of the universe. The renowned scientist, who has lived most of his 71 years with a paralyzing disease, pioneered efforts to unlock secrets of the cosmos, revolutionizing astrophysics and capturing the imagination of millions in the process. VOA's Rosanne Skirble has a profile.

Despite Paralyzing Disease, Hawking's Mind Soars

Rosanne Skirble
British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has done a lot of thinking about the nature of the universe.

The renowned scientist, who has lived most of his 71 years with a paralyzing disease, pioneered efforts to unlock secrets of the cosmos, revolutionizing astrophysics and capturing the imagination of millions in the process.

When he turned 70 in 2012, Hawking was honored with a special exhibit at London’s Science Museum. The tribute gave visitors an inside look at the life and work of one of the world's greatest minds.


“We have some of the first drafts of Hawking’s key scientific papers," astronomy curator Alison Boyle says. "And we wanted to do a survey of the key highlights of his career from the early 1960s and 1970s, right through now, and we also have examples of all the popular work he’s done over the years.”

Universe equation

Born in Oxford, England, in 1942, Hawking studied at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He became a math professor at Cambridge and held that post for more than 30 years.  In 2009, he left to head the Cambridge University Center for Theoretical Physics.

Hawking has spent his life working on big, bold ideas, according to David Devorkin, historian and curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.  

“His primary passion is to understand physical reality," Devorkin says. "What is time? What is space?  What is mass, and what do they have to do with one another other?  The big push at Cambridge is to reduce the universe to one equation that encompasses everything.”

Bridging the gap

Hawking’s work has focused on bridging the gap between Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity -which explains how the pull of gravity controls the motion of large objects like planets- and the theory of quantum physics, which deals with the behavior of particles on the subatomic scale. 

  • Portrait of a young Stephen Hawking, May 17, 1963. (Howard Grey)
  • Stephen Hawking visits the London Science Museum’s exhibit on his life and work. (Sarah Lee)
  • Some of the Hawking memorabilia on display at London’s Science Museum exhibition marking the scientist’s 70th birthday. (Science Museum PA)
  • The model built for Hawking in the early 1970s to show the deep gravitational “well” that black holes create in the fabric of space-time, from which not even light can escape. (Whipple Museum of the History of Science)
  • These two globular star clusters, located beyond our Milky Way galaxy, harbor hundreds of thousands of stars. Deep within the clusters’ dense cores, stars whirl rapidly around intermediate-sized black holes. (NASA/Hubble)
  • In this illustration of a black hole and its surrounding disk, gas spiraling down into the black hole piles up just outside it, creating a luminous halo. (NASA)
  • The smallest known black hole – part of a binary star system named XTE J1650-500 – is about 3.8 times more massive than our Sun. (NASA/CXC/A. Hobar)
  • This cosmic beach ball displays a full-sky map of the microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang event that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago. (NASA)
  • A sketch from Hawking’s notes illustrates the phenomenon of black hole radiation by showing that quantum effects cause electromagnetic particles to fleetingly form just outside the hole. (Hawking Family Archive)
  • Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, has been an international best seller, with over 10 million copies in print. (Science Museum PA)
  • Stephen Hawking, almost totally paralyzed since 1970 by ALS, enjoys a few moments of weightlessness during a flight aboard Zero Gravity Corp.’s modified Boeing 727. (Jim Campbell, Aero-News Network)
  • Stephen Hawking lecturing on the future of space exploration at a 2008 George Washington University event marking NASA’s 50th anniversary. (NASA/Paul E. Alers)
  • President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and 15 others the Presidential Medal of Freedom, August 12, 2009. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. (Officia

Hawking found a wider audience for those ideas with the 1988 publication of his best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time.” 

“The idea [is] that the universe is a logical one and one that follows certain rules," Devorkin says. "It’s out of that that he felt the necessity of a fundamental theory, because if the universe is knowable or logical, we should be able to figure out that logic, and that’s what the fundamental theory is.”

Seminal work

Hawking is also celebrated for his seminal work on the strange cosmic phenomena known as black holes.

The London exhibit displayed the model Hawking once used to explain his ideas about the unimaginably dense, heavy objects whose powerful gravity swallows up everything that comes close, even light.

“It shows the gravitational pull of a black hole," says Science Museum curator Alison Boyle. "So when a massive star collapses in on itself, it will keep and keep collapsing until it gets to a point of infinite density. And that’s called a singularity, and that’s what’s right inside a black hole.”

Stephen Hawking in his office at University of Cambridge, where he founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. (Science Museum)Stephen Hawking in his office at University of Cambridge, where he founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. (Science Museum)
x
Stephen Hawking in his office at University of Cambridge, where he founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. (Science Museum)
Stephen Hawking in his office at University of Cambridge, where he founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. (Science Museum)
Hawking applied the idea of singularity to the origin of the universe, which most scientists believe happened about 13 billion years ago in a cataclysmic explosion called the Big Bang.

“Much of our understanding of processes in the Big Bang come from Hawking’s work linking black hole physics to Big Bang physics," Devorkin says, "and he did a better job at it than anyone else.”

Another of the physicist's noted contributions is a theory dubbed Hawking Radiation. It proposes that black holes emit radiation and eventually evaporate and vanish. It’s an alternative explanation of the structure of the universe that also points to how it might end.

Overcoming the odds

Since 1970, Hawking has been almost completely paralyzed by ALS, an incurable, neurodegenerative condition. Confined to a wheelchair, he uses an advanced computer synthesizer to speak.

Despite his disabilities, he continues to work, write and travel.  At age 65, he was invited aboard a special zero-gravity jet to fulfill his dream of experiencing the weightlessness of a space-faring astronaut.  

“It was amazing," Hawking said. "The Zero-G part was wonderful, and the High-G part was no problem. I could have gone on and on. Space, here I come!”

New era

Speaking at a 2008 ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the U.S. space agency, NASA, Hawking called for a new era in human space exploration, comparable, he said, to the European voyages to the New World more than 500 years ago.

“Spreading out into space will have an even greater effect," Hawking said. "It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.”

Hawking also posed some fundamental questions.

“What will we find when we go into space?" he asked. "Is there alien life out there, or are we alone in the universe?”

Questions inspired by an indomitable mind, and Stephen Hawking's neverending quest to solve the mysteries of the universe.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid