Stephen Hawking

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Professor Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, (born January 8, 1942) is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. Hawking is the Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge (a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton), and a fellow of Gonville and Caius College. That he holds this post while almost completely incapacitated by severe motor neurone disease has made him a worldwide celebrity.

Contents

Biography

The first child of Frank and Isobel Hawking, Stephen was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942—the 300th anniversary of Galileo Galilei's death. Hawking showed great talent in mathematics and physics at an early age. He was educated at St Albans School, in Hertfordshire, and at University College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class honours degree in Natural Science. During this time, he had been particularly interested in thermodynamics, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics. He moved to Cambridge University to complete his PhD in cosmology at Trinity Hall. While at Cambridge in 1965, he married Jane Wilde, the daughter of Samantha Wilde, whom he had met at a New Year's party in St. Albans in 1963. (Ferguson, 1991: 42, 47).

Hawking was elected as one of the youngest fellows of the Royal Society in 1974, was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 1982, and became a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is a respected physicist, with many works recognised by both the International Association of Natural Physics and the American Physics-Astronomy Guild of Amherst.

Research fields

Hawking's principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. In 1971, in collaboration with Roger Penrose, he provided mathematical support for the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe; if the general theory of relativity was correct, the universe must have a singularity, or starting point, in space-time. Hawking also suggested that, after the Big Bang, primordial or mini black holes were formed. He showed that, neglecting quantum mechanical effects, the surface area of a black hole can increase but never decrease, derived a limit to the radiation emitted when black holes collide, and that a single black hole cannot break apart into two separate black holes. In 1974, he calculated that black holes thermally create and emit subatomic particles until they exhaust their energy and explode. Known as Hawking radiation, this theory was first to describe a mathematical link among gravity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. In 1981, Hawking proposed that, although the universe had no boundary, it was finite in space-time; 1983 saw his mathematical proof of this theory.

Illness

Despite being severely disabled by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neurone Disease, Hawking is highly active in physics, writing, and public life. The disease makes it necessary for Dr. Hawking to carry out the long and complex calculations that his work requires in his head. Symptoms of the disorder first appeared while he was enrolled at Cambridge. Diagnosis came when Hawking was 21, shortly before his first marriage, and doctors said he would not survive more than two or three years. He battled the odds and has survived much longer, although he has become increasingly disabled by the gradual progress of the disease. He has used an electronic voice synthesizer to communicate since a tracheostomy in 1985 that followed severe pneumonia. He gradually lost the use of his arms, legs, and voice, and is now almost completely paralysed. The computer system attached to his wheelchair is operated by Hawking manually through a blink recognizer, implanted in his glasses. By blinking and scrunching his cheeks up, he is able to talk; compose speeches, research papers, and books; browse the World Wide Web; write e-mail; and perform most other computer tasks. The system also uses radio transmission to provide control over doors, lights, and lifts at his home and office.

There is every chance that he would never have made the discoveries he has were it not for the support of his family. Although he divorced Jane in 1990 (they had 3 children — named Tim, Lucy and Robert — and now have a grandchild), Hawking is still something of a family man. Despite his disease, he describes himself as "lucky" — not just because its slow progress allowed him time to make influential discoveries but because it afforded him time to have, in his own words, "a very attractive family"[1]. When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a 3-year life expectancy, she responded: "These were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had rather a short life expectancy". He married his second wife, Elaine Mason, in 1995.

Distinction

Hawking is most famous for bringing astrophysics to a new level with the discovery of black holes. He took up Einstein's mantle and solved many of the paradoxes of relativity by theorizing the existence of objects with very high mass and zero space with gravity so crushing that they absorb all light and are hence invisible. The theory has been refined since to fall in line with quantum mechanics and with general developments in physics.

In addition to academic work, Hawking believed that the average person should have access to these concepts and wrote a series of popular science books. His first book, A Brief History of Time, was published on April 1, 1988, [2] and was a surprise best-seller. It was followed by The Universe in a Nutshell (2001). Both books have remained highly popular all over the world. A collection of essays, Black Holes and Baby Universes (1993) was also popular.

As well as intelligence, the man is known for wit. Hawking is famous for his oft-made statement, "When I hear of Schrödinger's cat, I reach for my gun." This was a deliberately ironic paraphrase of the phrase "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my Browning", from a play by German playwright and Nazi Poet Laureate, Hanns Johst. His witty way with words has both entertained the non-specialist public and helped them to understand complex questions. Asked recently (October 2005) to explain his assertion on the British daytime chat show Richard and Judy that the question, "What came before the big bang?" was meaningless, he compared it to asking, "What lies north of the north pole?"

As well as his serious academic side and humour, Hawking is an active supporter of various causes. He appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party, and actively supports the children's charity SOS Children's Villages. He also reportedly agreed to take part in a protest against the war in Iraq. [3]

Losing an old bet

Hawking was in the news in July 2004 for presenting a new theory about black holes which goes against his own long-held belief about their behaviour, thus losing a bet he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill of Caltech. Classically, it can be shown that information crossing the event horizon of a black hole is lost to our universe, and that as a consequence all black holes are identical, beyond their mass, electrical charge and angular velocity (the "no hair theorem"). The problem with this theorem is that it implies the black hole will emit the same radiation regardless of what goes into the black hole, and as a consequence that if a pure quantum state is thrown into a black hole, an "ordinary" mixed state will be returned. This runs counter to the rules of quantum mechanics and is known as the black hole information paradox.

To him, the bet was an "insurance policy" of sorts. To quote from his book, A Brief History of Time, "This was a form of insurance policy for me. I have done a lot of work on black holes, and it would all be wasted if it turned out that black holes do not exist. But in that case, I would have the consolation of winning my bet, which would win me four years of the magazine Private Eye. If black holes do exist, Kip will get one year of Penthouse. When we made the bet in 1975, we were 80 percent certain that Cygnus was a black hole. By now, I would say that we are about 95 percent certain, but the bet has yet to be settled." (1988)

Hawking had earlier speculated that the singularity at the centre of a black hole could form a bridge to a "baby universe" into which the lost information could pass; such theories have been very popular in science fiction. But according to Hawking's new idea, presented at the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation, on 21 July, 2004 in Dublin, Ireland, black holes eventually transmit, in a garbled form, information about all matter they swallow:

The Euclidean path integral over all topologically trivial metrics can be done by time slicing and so is unitary when analytically continued to the Lorentzian. On the other hand, the path integral over all topologically non-trivial metrics is asymptotically independent of the initial state. Thus the total path integral is unitary and information is not lost in the formation and evaporation of black holes. The way the information gets out seems to be that a true event horizon never forms, just an apparent horizon.
GR Conference website summary of Hawking's talk.

Having concluded that information is conserved, Hawking conceded his bet in Preskill's favour, awarding him Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, an encyclopedia from which information is easily retrieved. However, Thorne remains unconvinced of Hawking's proof and declined to contribute to the award.

Awards

Publications

Technical

Popular

N.B. On Hawking's website, he denounces the unauthorized publication of The Theory of Everything and asks consumers to boycott this book.

Popular culture

  • Bob & Tom Show. Hawking is portrayed (and his computerized voice simulated) in a spoof of the show I'm with Busey. At the end of the spoof, he's heard cursing his room-mate for being so stupid.
  • Dilbert. Was featured in an episode about Dilbert's project, the Gruntmaster 6000, creating a black hole to wipe out all life on Earth. During the episode, it is "revealed" that Hawking has the power to travel through both time and space via wormholes, and Dilbert learns the hard way that you should never bet money that a theoretical physicist can't do something.
  • Fairly Odd Parents. Hawking appeared throughout the episode "Remy Rides Again", in a mechanical flying wheelchair with a rocket on the back of it, which at the end of the episode, disappeared in a way similar to that in which the Delorean went back in time in Back to the Future. Hawking was played by Dee Bradley Baker in this episode. Hawking was hired by Remy to prove that 2 + 2 = 5, and was also Crocker's room-mate in college.
  • Family Guy. Hawking's persona has been featured in the episode "Peter, Peter, Caviar Eater"; it is a very brief cameo during the song "This House Is Freaking Sweet"; Hawking is presented as the man who will help Chris do his homework. Additionally, a character known as Disabled Guy or "Paraplegic Guy" appears to be largely based on Hawking. The character made his first appearance in the episode "Ready, Willing, and Disabled," as a competitor in the Special People's Games. Later, in the episode "Brian Goes Back to College", he is portrayed as Brian's advanced-physics professor and known as "Steve".
  • MC Hawking. The imaginary alter-ego for the "theoretical physicist turned gangster-rapper".
  • The Onion. Satirical newspaper ran an article claiming that Hawking's head had been mounted on a super-robotic cyborg body, complete with laser-guided missiles and a jetpack. [6] Hawking, with his typical good humour, sent them a letter cursing them for exposing his evil plans for world domination.
  • Pink Floyd. Hawking gave his "voice" to parts of the Pink Floyd song "Keep Talking".
  • Pinky and the Brain. In an episode in which a black hole is used as a weapon, Pinky throws it out of a hotel room window in defiance of the laws of physics. Brain notes that he must consult with Stephen Hawking.
  • Radiohead. Radiohead's song "Fitter, Happier" contains lyrics that appear to be spoken by Hawking. They are actually spoken by Fred Cooper, the man whose voice is the basis for Hawking's speech system. Cooper's voice was also famously used by Apple on the first Macintosh computer.
  • The Simpsons. Made a few guest appearances on the long-running prime-time cartoon. In "They Saved Lisa's Brain", he saves Lisa from the power-hungry Springfield chapter of Mensa in a special wheelchair, complete with an Inspector Gadget–style retractable helicopter attachment and a spring-loaded boxing glove. (During the British Comedy Awards 2004, Hawking was presented with a one-off toy version of himself in Simpson form by Matt Groening, complete with boxing glove. Hawking presented Groening with a lifetime achievement award.) In the Season 16 episode "Don't Fear the Roofer", he is a friend of Lenny and shows up to explain that Bart couldn't see Ray (guest voice Ray Romano) during one scene because there was a black hole between the two of them, leading to Homer's being put into a mental hospital. Additionally, Homer makes a reference to Stephen Hawking when he is transported to a three-dimensional zone in a Halloween episode, and claims "I wish I read that book by that wheelchair guy." Hawking is also seen in a line of people about to board a space ship to Mars in one of the "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, in which the Earth is doomed ("Life's a Glitch").
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data is seen playing poker with holographic depictions of Stephen Hawking, Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein at the begining of the season six cliffhanger Decent. Hawking portrayed his own hologram for this episode. When taking a tour of the set, he paused at the Warp Core, smiled, and said "I'm working on that." He is the only person in any Star Trek series to play himself. (Season 6: Episode 26: "Descent, Part 1".) Also, in the final episode of the series, "All Good Things...", Data has assumed the Lucasian professorship at Cambridge, the post that Hawking currently holds, in an alternate future. Brent Spiner (who played Data) reportedly quipped, in an obviously tongue-in-cheek manner, that Hawking's cameo was "the most notable moment in television history since Albert Einstein guest-starred on Gunsmoke" [7].

See also

References

  • Ferguson, Kitty (1991). Stephen Hawking: Quest For A Theory of Everything. Franklin Watts. ISBN 0553-29895-X.
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 }}Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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}}.. A highly influential monograph in the field.

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 }}New York: Cambridge University Press

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}}.. A much cited centennial survey.

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 }}San Francisco: W. H. Freeman

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}}.; see Box 34.3 for a short biography. (This famous book is the first modern textbook on general relativity, and shows that even in the early seventies, Hawking was already regarded as an unusually intriguing personality by his colleagues.)

  • "Stephen Hawking," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2005 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

External links

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