How Stephen Hawk­ing changed the world

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - JAMIE SEI­DEL

HE was trapped in a wheel­chair. But Pro­fes­sor Stephen Hawk­ing was an ex­plorer in ev­ery sense of the word.

Through his thoughts, he opened up new worlds to hu­man­ity.

It would have been easy for the world-renowned the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist’s life to slip into de­spair but in­stead, Hawk­ing over­came his de­bil­i­tat­ing life sen­tence and spent his 76 years broad­en­ing the hori­zons of our universe be­fore his de­par­ture yes­ter­day.

His chil­dren Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a state­ment: “We are deeply sad­dened that our beloved fa­ther passed away today ... His courage and per­sis­tence with his bril­liance and hu­mour in­spired peo­ple across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the peo­ple you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”

With those words the world dis­cov­ered it had lost a gen­er­a­tion’s great­est mind.

If you hadn’t seen or heard the wheel­chair-bound, elec­tronic-voiced ge­nius on doc­u­men­taries, the news or in his three ap­pear­ances on The Simp­sons, you’d prob­a­bly know him through 2014 movie The The­ory of Every­thing.

Cer­tainly, every­body who ever had any­thing to do with the mys­ter­ies of time and space knew him well.

Not since famed physi­cist Al­bert Ein­stein has any­one had the im­pact on the world of physics that Hawk­ing had.

He strove to dis­cover how Ein­stein’s sem­i­nal the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity — which de­fined the na­ture of space and time — meshed with our mod­ern un­der­stand­ing of quan­tum the­ory: the be­hav­iour of the chaotic, in­finites­i­mally small build­ing blocks of the universe. It is mind-bend­ing stuff. Hawk­ing had the mind for it. But he had to beat the odds to ap­ply it.

“Through it all, of course, his ill­ness made his achieve­ments near-su­per­hu­man,” says fel­low astro­physi­cist and Swin­burne Univer­sity science com­mu­ni­ca­tor Dr Alan Duffy. “How he ma­nip­u­lated Ein­stein’s equa­tions in his mind when he could no longer hold a pen I can’t even be­gin to imag­ine.”

In Hawk­ing’s own words, he felt “some­what of a tragic char­ac­ter” af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS) — Lou Gehrig’s dis­ease — at age 21.

He was given no more than five years to live. He lasted more than 50. The black hole of de­spair beck­oned.

But Hawk­ing found a way to es­cape.

He re­turned to work. He mar­ried Jane Wilde. He had three chil­dren.

And he pub­lished ideas that shook our un­der­stand­ing of the universe.

“Pro­fes­sor Hawk­ing was an in­spi­ra­tion to me to be­come — not just a sci­en­tist — but a com­mu­ni­ca­tor of that science,” Dr Duffy says. “His

work as a cos­mol­o­gist, and dis­cov­er­ies in black hole physics were leg­endary.

“He was also won­der­fully funny with a fan­tas­tic me­dia savvi­ness that pro­pelled him into A-list celebrity star­dom.”

But Dr Duffy says it was Hawk­ing’s work with black hole physics that made him a leg­end in his own life­time.

“His best-known pre­dic­tion, named by the com­mu­nity as Hawk­ing Ra­di­a­tion, trans­formed the black holes from in­escapable grav­i­ta­tional prisons into ob­jects that in­stead shrink and fade away over time,” he says.

“While his many con­tri­bu­tions will live on, there is no doubt that science and the wider world is the poorer for his pass­ing.”

Hawk­ing es­caped the con­fines of academia in 1988 with the pub­li­ca­tion of A Brief His­tory of Time, which not only made as­tro­physics com­pre­hen­si­ble to the masses but also made it pop­u­lar.

He be­came an un­likely in­ter­na­tional celebrity. Of­ten un­able to travel, Hawk­ing in­stead crossed space and time through the mar­vels of live video at first — and then as a holo­gram. His pro­jec­tion made just such an ap­pear­ance at the Syd­ney Opera House in 2015 to present a lec­ture.

“Although I would love to be there in per­son,” he quipped, “the idea of be­ing the first per­son to ap­pear as a holo­gram on the stage at the Opera House was too good an of­fer to refuse.”

Born in Ox­ford in 1942 to a pair of Ox­ford Univer­sity grad­u­ates, Hawk­ing’s strug­gles with school led him to build his own com­puter out of scrap and make it ca­pa­ble of solv­ing sim­ple math prob­lems. Even­tu­ally, he grad­u­ated with hon­ours in nat­u­ral science.

His mum Iso­bel said: “Stephen al­ways had a strong sense of won­der, and I could see that the stars would draw him.”

He ma­nip­u­lated in Ein­stein’s equa­tions he could his mind when a pen no longer hold Astro­physi­cist Dr Alan Duffy

Hawk­ing and first wife Jane (cen­tre) with ac­tors Felic­ity Jones and Ed­die Red­mayne at the pre­miere of The The­ory of Every­thing in Lon­don. Hawk­ing on The Simp­sons.

The­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing at Cam­bridge in 2014 and (in­sets left) mar­ry­ing sec­ond wife Elaine Ma­son in 1995 and float­ing on a zero grav­ity jet in 2007.

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