How often do you come across a scientist being regarded as a celebrity by the public? Very rarely. Yet, in his lifetime, Dr. Stephen Hawking had managed to do just that.
Though his exemplary work as a theoretical physicist redefined Cosmology, it was Hawking’s blockbuster best-seller book “A Brief History of Time” that brought his theories to the eye of the public. It is said that a whopping 10 million copies have been sold to this date; no contemporary science books have sold these many copies. I remember getting a copy of his book myself from my folks when I was 13 and going through the contents was intriguing in itself! Neither did I know who Stephen Hawking was at the time nor anything about black holes. But one thing was certain: the book instilled in me a desire to know more about stars and galaxies and of course back holes.
It would be a shame to gloss over his work so I thought I would briefly go through 3 of his works that had made modern physics what it is today.
- The Nature of Black Holes – Black Holes are phenomena of space that exhibit extreme gravitational effects that not even light can escape it. A depiction of a Black Hole is shown below. In the 1970s, when they were still concept out of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Hawking derived mathematical equations proving certain characteristics of Black Holes. A Black Hole consists of a vortex shape with an imaginary region called the event horizon, that according to Hawking, is marked as a point of no return for any object reaching that point. Once the object is pulled in it tunnels down to the end point which is called the point of singularity (which I will talk about in a while) . For years, scientists have been confounded by the properties of black holes. Recently, scientists have been able to decipher the true form of the black hole which is said to resemble a crescent shape but that’s how far we have gone which is not much.
2. Hawking Radiation– He redefined the behaviour of black holes when he explained with Quantum Physics, that black holes unlike their names were not truly black after all and emitted a certain amount of radiation which is now called as the “Hawking Radiation“. This radiation he calculated would cause the black hole to shrink and eventually evaporate. By this it meant that the radiation was also capable of erasing the information of the entire universe. This theory led to the violation of many other theories like the law of conservation of energy (Energy is neither created nor destroyed) is known as the Black Hole information paradox. This paradox talks about the conflicting theories about Black Holes.
3. The Big Bang Theory – Back in the 70s, the Big Bang theory was also just emerging theory with no robust leads. Hawking along with is collaborator, Roger Penrose explained that singularity, which means there is no differentiation between time and space, is almost part and parcel of the Big Bang theory . In other words, this was a point where laws of physics don’t seem to work and time had simply no meaning before the Big Bang occurred. But he argued that such a state of singularity occurs at the advent of the universe and also in Black Holes.
Hawking never received the Nobel prize for his findings because there was no observational data to support his theories. That being said, one look at the life Hawking shows that he was never intimidated by the various challenges he had to face.
I have surmised 4 life-rules of Stephen Hawking which could be a motivation for all of us:
1. Be Tenacious
Living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is no small matter. It can greatly reduce the quality of life not to mention its devastating effects. Also known as the “Ice Bucket disease”(remember the ice bucket challenge?), the neurons or the nerve cells in the brain tend to die leaving the person fighting for his very life. But that never deterred Hawking. He authored 15 books, appeared in television programs like Big Bang Theory and Nat Geo’s Genius and even made a biopic of his life. And how wonderful it was to see him give his narrative on the cosmos. Defy your weakness: it may be something as serious as an illness or something less problematic like a stage fright. Whatever be it, defy it move against the tides!
2. Have a Sense of Humor
Oh boy, Hawking’s humor seemed unprecedented especially when it came to speaking about his disability on a lighter note.
To paraphrase his words, life would indeed be tragic if it weren’t funny. To look at one’s difficulties and challenges with a sense of humor is really hard especially when one is slowly dying of a terminal disease and confined to the wheelchair. But if you follow Hawking’s life-rule you will see challenges from another perspective. Moreover, a study conducted in Norway showed that a good sense of humor could increase life expectancy !
3.Challenge Your Destiny
You’ve heard the proverbial before:
“When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!”
So, when the going tough, stay strong and stick to your passion. The world is filled with stories such as Hawking’s where people mustered the courage to keep showing up in life even when faced with the worst-of-its-kind hurdles. Most of us know that Hawking could never be restricted by his disabilities even though his disabilities got worse and worse as years passed. Confined to a wheelchair, he started losing the ability of speech in his fifties and was solely dependent on his voice synthesiser to communicate to the world towards the latter part of his life.
3. Be a Science Communicator
As a part of the world of science, consider it a duty to become a good science communicator to the lay public. The world needs to know the beauty of science rather than being misunderstood by mere assumptions made out of ignorance. Communication is the key. This was one ability of Hawking that made him popular amongst the public.
Maybe you are not as eloquent as Dr. Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson, but making an effort can help in the long run. Although there has been much development to bring the worlds of science and the lay-society together yet we still find much more need to be done to blur the boundaries between the two.
On March 14th 2018, the world not only lost a visionary who set new boundaries in his field but also someone who inspired millions leaving a cosmic legacy behind.
RIP Stephen Hawking.
 Hawking, S. W.; Penrose, R. (1970). “The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology”. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 314 (1519): 529–548. doi:10.1098/rspa.1970.0021.
 Svebak, S., Romundstad, S., & Holmen, J. A 7-year prospective study of sense of humor and mortality in an adult county population: The HUNT-2 study. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 40, 125-146