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Steven Hawking - the Man Behind the Computerized Voice

Courageous life story of Steven Hawking, the man with the computerized voice

Written By on in Cosmology

652 words, estimated reading time 3 minutes.

Steven Hawking, the man with the computerized voice, has become part of pop culture, making his way into TV shows and songs. He has had a prestigious career as a cosmologist who was able to communicate the wonders of the universe despite a progressive and debilitating condition.

The English physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time was a national treasure. His life story is one of courage and relentless pursuit of knowledge. The legendary scientist, who wrote A Brief History of Time, eventually had to rely on a computer to communicate after his health began declining while studying at Oxford.

Stephen Hawking at NASA's StarChild Learning Center
Stephen Hawking at NASA's StarChild Learning Center

At 21, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ALS, a motor-neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, where doctors gave him two years to live. Rather than succumbing to depression, as others might have done, he began to set his sights on some of the most fundamental questions concerning the physical nature of the universe. Which came first...the chicken or the egg? Did the universe have a beginning... and if so, what happened before then? Where did the universe come from...and where is it going?

He moved to Cambridge upon his graduation from Oxford. Though he was slowly losing control of his muscles, he was still able to walk short distances and perform simple tasks, though laboriously, like dressing and undressing. In 1965, he married Jane Wilde, a student of linguistics. Now, by his own account, he not only had "something to live for"; he also had to find a job, which gave him an incentive to work seriously toward his doctorate.

Hawking's work on black holes helped prove the idea of a 'Big Bang' at the birth of the Universe.

Developed in the 1940s, Big Bang theory was still not accepted by all cosmologists. Working with mathematician Roger Penrose, Hawking realised that black holes were like the Big Bang in reverse – and that meant the maths he'd used to describe black holes also described the Big Bang. It was a key moment in showing the Big Bang really happened.

Hawking realised black holes could be a way to explore physics' holy grail: a unified theory that combined general relativity with quantum mechanics.

These two powerful but incompatible theories describe the universe at the cosmic scale and subatomic scale respectively. Hawking's attempts to combine them produced a surprising result - that black holes should shine. This effect is now known as 'Hawking radiation'. The work cemented his reputation as a key thinker of his generation. In 1974 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society, aged 32, and one of the youngest people to achieve this honour.

Hawking wanted to explain his work to the public, and to make some money to provide for his family as his health declined. A Brief History of Time was a best-seller for four years. Hawking believes its success is down to giving people access to great philosophical questions, but acknowledges human interest boosted sales. The book went on to sell over nine million copies. It turned Hawking into a celebrity and transformed his life.

In 1999, Stephen achieved what many regard as the ultimate accolade: his first guest appearance on the Simpsons.

By now he was an iconic figure, as famous for his public writings and cameos as for his scientific papers. He had presented a documentary series, 'Stephen Hawking's Universe', guest starred on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and lent his distinctive voice to Pink Floyd’s album ‘The Division Bell’. And he continued to publish popular science books.

Hawking taking a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft, 2007
Hawking taking a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft, 2007

Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge at the age of 76 in the early hours of Wednesday 14th March 2018.

One of the world's most beloved scientists and a prolific author, Hawking leaves the world with his pioneering work on black holes and relativity, as well as quintessential science books like his bestseller, A Brief History of Time.

Last updated on: Thursday 28th June 2018



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