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Stephen Hawking (1942)

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  Summary  

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS, FRSA is an English theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009.
He is now Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.
He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time, which stayed on the British Sunday Times best-sellers list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Hawking's key scientific works to date have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation, which is today known as Hawking radiation (or sometimes as Bekenstein–Hawking radiation).

Hawking has a motor neurone disease that is related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralysed.

  Biography  

 early life
Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 to Dr. Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward. Though Hawking's parents were living in North London, they moved to Oxford while his mother was pregnant with Stephen, desiring a safer location for the birth of their first child. According to Hawking, a German V-2 missile struck only a few streets away.

After Hawking was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research. In 1950, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire, where he attended St Albans High School for Girls from 1950 to 1953. (At that time, boys could attend the Girls' school until the age of ten.) From the age of eleven, he attended St Albans School, where he was a good, but not exceptional, student. When asked later to name a teacher who had inspired him, Hawking named his mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta. He maintains his connection with the school, giving his name to one of the four houses and to an extracurricular science lecture series. He has visited it to deliver one of the lectures and has also granted a lengthy interview to pupils working on the school magazine, The Albanian.

Hawking was always interested in science. Inspired by his mathematics teacher, he originally wanted to study the subject at university. However, Hawking's father wanted him to apply to University College, Oxford, where his father had attended. As University College did not have a mathematics fellow at that time, it would not accept applications from students who wished to read that discipline. Hawking therefore applied to read natural sciences, in which he gained a scholarship. Once at University College, Hawking specialised in physics. His interests during this time were in thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics. His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said in The New York Times Magazine:


Hawking was passing, but his unimpressive study habits resulted in a final examination score on the borderline between first and second class honours, making an "oral examination" necessary. Berman said of the oral examination:


After receiving his B.A. degree at Oxford in 1962, he stayed to study astronomy. He decided to leave when he found that studying sunspots, which was all the observatory was equipped for, did not appeal to him and that he was more interested in theory than in observation. He left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he engaged in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology.

 career
Almost as soon as he arrived at Cambridge, he started developing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, known colloquially in the United States as Lou Gehrig's disease), a type of motor neurone disease which would cost him almost all neuromuscular control. During his first two years at Cambridge, he did not distinguish himself, but, after the disease had stabilised and with the help of his doctoral tutor, Dennis William Sciama, he returned to working on his PhD.

Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society in 1974, was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, and became a Companion of Honour in 1989. Hawking is a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In 1974, he accepted the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology to work with his friend, Kip Thorne, who was a faculty member there. He continues to have ties with Caltech, spending a month each year there since 1992.

Hawking's achievements were made despite the increasing paralysis caused by the ALS. By 1974, he was unable to feed himself or get out of bed. His speech became slurred so that he could be understood only by people who knew him well. In 1985, he caught pneumonia and had to have a tracheotomy, which made him unable to speak at all. A Cambridge scientist built a device that enables Hawking to write onto a computer with small movements of his body, and then have a voice synthesiser speak what he has typed.

 Research fields


Hawking's principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity.

In the late 1960s, he and his Cambridge friend and colleague, Roger Penrose, applied a new, complex mathematical model they had created from Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. This led, in 1970, to Hawking proving the first of many singularity theorems; such theorems provide a set of sufficient conditions for the existence of a gravitational singularity in space-time. This work showed that, far from being mathematical curiosities which appear only in special cases, singularities are a fairly generic feature of general relativity.

He supplied a mathematical proof, along with Brandon Carter, Werner Israel and D. Robinson, of John Wheeler's no-hair theorem – namely, that any black hole is fully described by the three properties of mass, angular momentum, and electric charge.

Hawking also suggested upon analysis of gamma ray emissions that after the Big Bang, primordial mini black holes were formed. With Bardeen and Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. In 1974, he calculated that black holes should thermally create and emit subatomic particles, known today as Bekenstein-Hawking radiation, until they exhaust their energy and evaporate.

In collaboration with Jim Hartle, Hawking developed a model in which the universe had no boundary in space-time, replacing the initial singularity of the classical Big Bang models with a region akin to the North Pole: one cannot travel north of the North Pole, as there is no boundary. While originally the no-boundary proposal predicted a closed universe, discussions with Neil Turok led to the realisation that the no-boundary proposal is also consistent with a universe which is not closed.

Along with Thomas Hertog at CERN, in 2006 Hawking proposed a theory of "top-down cosmology," which says that the universe had no unique initial state, and therefore it is inappropriate for physicists to attempt to formulate a theory that predicts the universe's current configuration from one particular initial state. Top-down cosmology posits that in some sense, the present "selects" the past from a superposition of many possible histories. In doing so, the theory suggests a possible resolution of the fine-tuning question: It is inevitable that we find our universe's present physical constants, as the current universe "selects" only those past histories that led to the present conditions. In this way, top-down cosmology provides an anthropic explanation for why we find ourselves in a universe that allows matter and life, without invoking an ensemble of multiple universes.

Hawking's many other scientific investigations have included the study of quantum cosmology, cosmic inflation, helium production in anisotropic Big Bang universes, large N cosmology, the density matrix of the universe, topology and structure of the universe, baby universes, Yang-Mills instantons and the S matrix, anti de Sitter space, quantum entanglement and entropy, the nature of space and time, including the arrow of time, spacetime foam, string theory, supergravity, Euclidean quantum gravity, the gravitational Hamiltonian, Brans-Dicke and Hoyle-Narlikar theories of gravitation, gravitational radiation, and wormholes.

At a George Washington University lecture in honour of NASA's fiftieth anniversary, Hawking theorised on the existence of extraterrestrial life, believing that "primitive life is very common and intelligent life is fairly rare."

 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 thus 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 it, 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.

 Human spaceflight
At the fiftieth anniversary of NASA in 2008, Hawking gave a keynote speech on the final frontier exhorting and inspiring the space technology community on why we explore space.

At the celebration of his sixty-fifth birthday on 8 January 2007, Hawking announced his plan to take a zero-gravity flight in 2007 to prepare for a sub-orbital spaceflight in 2009 on Virgin Galactic's space service. Billionaire Richard Branson pledged to pay all expenses for the latter, costing an estimated £100,000. Stephen Hawking's zero-gravity flight in a "Vomit Comet" of Zero Gravity Corporation, during which he experienced weightlessness eight times, took place on 26 April 2007. He became the first quadriplegic to float in zero-gravity. This was the first time in forty years that he moved freely, without his wheelchair. The fee is normally US$3,750 for 10–15 plunges, but Hawking was not required to pay the fee. A bit of a futurist, Hawking was quoted before the flight saying:

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he suggested that space was the Earth's long term hope. He continued this theme at a 2008 Charlie Rose interview.

 Existence and nature of extraterrestrial life
Hawking has indicated that he is almost certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe and uses a mathematical basis for his assumptions. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like." He believes alien life not only certainly exists on planets but perhaps even in other places, like within stars or even floating in outer space. He also warns that a few of these species might be intelligent and threaten Earth. Contact with such species might be devastating for humanity. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said. He advocated that, rather than try to establish contact, humans should try to avoid contact with alien life forms.

 personal life
Hawking revealed that he did not see much point in obtaining a doctorate if he were to die soon. Hawking later said that the real turning point was his 1965 marriage to Jane Wilde, a language student. After gaining his PhD at Trinity Hall, he became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

Jane Hawking (née Wilde), Hawking's first wife, cared for him until 1991 when the couple separated, reportedly because of the pressures of fame and his increasing disability. They had three children: Robert, Lucy, and Timothy. Hawking then married his nurse, Elaine Mason (who was previously married to David Mason, the designer of the first version of Hawking's talking computer), in 1995. In October 2006, Hawking filed for divorce from his second wife amid claims by former nurses that she had abused him.

In 1999, Jane Hawking published a memoir, Music to Move the Stars, detailing the marriage and his breakdown; in 2010 she published a revised version, Travelling to Infinity, My Life with Stephen. Hawking's daughter, Lucy, is a novelist. Their oldest son, Robert, emigrated to the United States, married, and has a son. After a period of estrangement, Hawking and his first family were reconciled in 2007.

His view on how to live life is to "seek the greatest value of our action".

Hawking was asked about his IQ in a 2004 newspaper interview, and replied, "I have no idea. People who boast about their I.Q. are losers." Yet when asked "Are you saying you are not a genius?", Hawking replied "I hope I'm near the upper end of the range."

 Religious views
In his early work, Hawking spoke of "God" in a metaphorical sense, such as in A Brief History of Time: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we should know the mind of God." In the same book he suggested the existence of God was unnecessary to explain the origin of the universe. His 2010 book The Grand Design and interviews with the Telegraph and the Channel 4 documentary Genius of Britain, clarify that he does "not believe in a personal God". Hawking writes, "The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second." He adds, "Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing."

His ex-wife, Jane, said during their divorce proceedings that he was an atheist. Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws." In an interview published in The Guardian newspaper, Hawking regarded the concept of Heaven as a myth, stating that there is "no heaven or afterlife" and that such a notion was a "fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Hawking contrasted religion and science in 2010, saying: "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Stephen Hawking", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.