Few scientists are as remarkable as Stephen Hawking. Despite suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral (Lou Gehrig'sdisease)?an affliction that many experts expected to have killed him decades go?Hawking remains a vital and influential voice in the scientific community. ?I would like to be thought of as a scientist who just happens to be disabled., rather than a disabled scientist,? said Hawking once.
As one of the leading cosmologists studying the celestial phenomenon known as black holes, Hawking has led the way in popularising science with his best-selling work, A Brief History of Time.
Written by an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Central Connecticut State University, the author admits that seeing him first on the television screen on the Sci Fi Channel and what caught her attention was a paralysed man in an electric wheelchair; a brilliant scientist who could only communicate through a computerised voice operated through a keypad mounted on his wheelchair.
Stephen was born on January 8, 1942, precisely the day of Galileo'sdeath, at Oxford. Stephen was a small, clumsy child who did not excel at sports or handwriting. He did hot learn to read with any skill until he was eight and this he blames on his early schooling. Later he scored so high on the eleven-plus standardised test to earn free education as St. Albans School. By this time he was already moving towards a career in science, He was fascinated by model trains and would take apart clocks and radios, though he was not as adept in putting them together. But he was constantly questioning and admitted once, ?I am just a child that has never grown up. I still keep asking these how and why questions. Occasionally I find an answer.?
At the age of 13, he prepared to take a scholarship exam as his father could not meet the expenses, but he fell ill and was unable to appear for the exam. The illness proved mysterious and lingering, keeping him out of school and in bed, paralysed for long periods of time. His mother later presumed the ?glandular fever? as the first hint of a terrible disease that would begin ravaging his body in early adulthood.
Hawking and his friends became very interested in extra-sensory perception and built out of clocks and telephone switchboard, their Logical Uniselector Compiling Engine which became the talk of the town. Hawking on leaving school felt biology ?too inexact, too descriptive? while ?physics was the most fundamental of all the sciences?. In March 1959, when only 17, he won a scholarship in physics and headed for Oxford. He was accepted into Cambridge but with the condition that he receive a ?first? in his final exams, the equivalent of high honours. He received a first and took to studying cosmology. He was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig'sdisease and confined to a wheelchair. Patients in advanced stages may be placed on a respirator and death from pneumonia is a serious threat. Stephen asked himself, ?Why should it happen to me? Why should I be cut off like this??
In 1963, he began dating Jane Wilde. In 1964 they got married. He got a research fellowship and his first paper ?On the Hoyle-Narlikar Theory of Gravitation? was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society. He had a son in 1967 and a daughter in 1969. In 1970, he changed his research focus to black holes and won an award. He got inducted into the Royal Society and in 1985, his wife Jane informed him of her involvement with another man. Meanwhile Stephen found himself in drug-induced coma and lost speech. He received a tracheotomy which permanently robbed him of speech.
Hawking and Roger Penrose were awarded the Wolfe Prize in physics and A Brief History of Time became a runaway bestseller. In 1990, he and Jane separated.
The unrelenting intrusions by the press into his personal life were difficult and he spoke less about family life. He did not realise that lack of privacy was an unavoidable part of fame and said, ?It would be hypocritical to complain. I can generally ignore it by going off to think in 11 dimensions.?
Hawking began to draw large crowds to his public lectures in Spain and India. He received the James Smithsonian Bicentennial Medal in 2005. In one of his self-deprecating remarks, he accepted that ?there are some things I can'tdo. They are mostly things I don'tparticularly want to do anyway.?
Hawking is openly thankful that his disease has allowed him ?to concentrate on research without learning to lecture or sit on boring committees.?
An interesting biography of an equally interesting scientist.
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