Pi Day (3/14), also the birth anniversary of Albert Einstein, saw another event of note in the world of science, as famous modern-day physicist Stephen Hawking passed away at the age of 76 on Wednesday. Not only was he a recognised physicist, but his quirky style and tasteful arrogance also earned him a status of pop culture icon, entailing walk-on roles on popular sitcoms and comedy shows.
But what was it that actually made Hawking famous?
For starters, he did NOT discover black holes, not even the big bang; nor did he give the quantum theory. In fact, he wasn’t even regarded as the ‘greatest mind of the 20th century’ by peers. They thought he was just ‘very good.’
Though nothing should be taken away from a man who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21. It rendered him handicapped for the rest of his life while he wasn’t supposed to have as many years to live on. But he defied death for more than half a century and continued to march on with his research till an age where most would be enjoying retirement.
That of course can’t be enough to elevate his name among the ones worthy of a Nobel Prize. Hawking’s work, according to BBC ‘brought together several different but equally fundamental fields of physical theory: gravitation, cosmology, quantum theory, thermodynamics and information theory.’
Here are some of his notable achievements, minus the innumerable number of awards and accolades he’s received over the years:
- 1966 – Completes doctorate and is awarded fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He works on singularities in the theory of general relativity and applies ideas to the study of black holes
- 1968 – Publishes Large Scale Structure of Space-Time
- 1970 – Discovers that by using quantum theory and general relativity he is able to show that black holes can emit radiation
- 1971 – Hawking co-discovered the four laws of black hole mechanics
- 1973 – He joined the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge, he discovers that black holes could leak energy and particles into space, and could even explode. It is published in the journal Nature, a year later. The theory is known as Hawking radiation
- 1981 – He contributed to the theory of cosmic inflation
- 1983 – Along with James Hartle, he proposed an important model on universe’s initial state
- 1988 – Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time was published. In it he explains a range of subjects in cosmology, including the big bang, black holes and light cones. The book was written in a non-technical language to clearly express his ideas to an average reader
- 2006 – Stephen Hawking, along with Thomas Hertog of CERN, proposed a theory of “top-down cosmology”. It proposed that the universe had not one unique initial state but consisted of a superposition of many possible initial conditions
The release of his 1988 book can be considered his most popular achievement. The result was Hawking becoming the most popular physicist in public eye and the extension of physics as a subject of public interest. That, perhaps, could be considered one of his most remarkable contributions to science in the modern era
Hawking would have loved to read everything that is being written about him post his demise. For all we know, he might have contemplated faking his death to experience that narcissistic pleasure; heck, he might secretly have devised a manner to live after death. But jokes aside, Stephen Hawking was the poster boy of 20th century physics and no one can take that away from him. You shall be missed, Einstein!