The 74-year-old British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking can be considered the most well-known scientist of the modern age. He received world-wide recognition for his contribution to quantum physics research, time and black hole theories. He is also the author of the book ‘A Brief History of Time’. He also suffers from a rare, slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
In spite of the fact that the scientist’s body has become almost completely paralyzed over the years, his mind remains as sharp as ever. Even now Hawking continues his work on different physics theories.
Here are some facts you may not have known about Hawking – the man considered the sharpest mind of our age:
One of the worst students in class
Hard to believe, but when he was nine, Hawking had some of the worst grades in his class. He did manage to improve them later on, but only to an average level. In spite of that, however, teachers and his classmates seemed to understand that there was the next genius among them, which is proved by the fact that the young boy soon earned the nickname ‘Einstein’.
The boy was a genius when it came to mathematics. He was especially interested in chemistry. After graduating from middle school, Hawking studied at Oxford University College and Cambridge University, where he earned Doctor’s degree in cosmology in 1966.
Hawking was promised an early death at the age of 21
At the age of 60, Hawking started showing symptoms of motor neurone disease – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which inevitably led to paralysis. After diagnosing the illness in 1963, doctors told the 21-year-old Hawking that he would live a maximum of two and a half years. This grim prediction did not come to pass – Hawking celebrated his 74th birthday on 8 January 2016.
In 1985, Hawking contracted pneumonia. After multiple operations, doctors performed tracheotomy, and he lost the ability to speak.
His friends got him a special speech synthesizer device, which was later attached to his wheelchair. His right cheek is the only part of his body that retains some ability to move. A special sensor is attached to it to help the brilliant scientist to move his wheelchair and interact with the world.
Promoter of science, writer and pop culture luminary
In spite of his disease, Hawking take active part in scientific and public life. He also regularly gives interviews.
In 2007, he realized his dream – performed a zero gravity flight in a specialized aircraft, which helped him leave his chair, if only for a brief moment.
Hawking is also the author of multiple world-popular books on science. All of them are translated in many languages and have sold millions.
What is interesting is that Hawking’s ex-wife Jane wrote memoirs. Based on these memoirs, a film was made – a romantic drama ‘The Theory of Everything’. It tells the story of a woman’s relationship with her former husband, his accomplishments in physics and the hardships that followed after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
Hawking is also known in pop culture is a genius who has achieved much in spite of the state of his body. He appeared in Star Trek series, was portrayed as a character in The Simpsons cartoon and even took part in the recording of Pink Floyd’s song ‘Keep Talking’.
Latest accomplishment – cycle of programmes ‘Think like Stephen Hawking’
One of Hawking’s latest achievements is the creation of the ‘Think like Stephen Hawking’ cycle of programmes, which was produced in cooperation with National geographic. The programme shows how regular people can think like geniuses and understand the way how the biggest scientific accomplishments of mankind came to be.
The programme will show large-scale experiments and massive demonstrations to help decipher the secrets behind evolutionary biology, astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Each episode will have three volunteers. They will be asked to think like the brightest minds in history to come up with answers to important questions that interest mankind.
Father of three children and twice divorced
In 1965, before the illness had taken its hold over his body, Hawking married philology students Jane Wilde. The couple had three children – two sons and a daughter. In 1990, after 25 years together, the couple divorced.
Some say Jane could no longer take Hawking’s condition and his distancing from his family because of many caretakers and assistants. She later married musician Jonathan Jones. Doctors predicted a soon death for Hawking, so Jane started looking for a man who would take care of her and her children.
Because of the complicated situation with his family, Stephen moved to a different home with one of his caretakers – Elaine Mason. The two married each other in September 1995. But even this marriage fell apart after 12 years.
Violent second wife
One of the scientist’s caretakers says that Elaine Mason married Hawking out of personal interests – Hawking owned a house worth GBP 750,000 in Cambridge and his income from books reached USD 2 million.
There is information that suggests Elaine was even physically violent towards him – he was hospitalized multiple times with bruises and broken bones. Nevertheless, Hawking always denied having received those injuries from Elaine.
After his divorce with Elaine, Hawking restored friendly relationships with Jane, their children and three grandchildren.
Denies the existence of God, but believes in aliens
In his interview to Spanish El Pais, Hawking mentioned not having faith in the existence of a God, adding that all natural phenomena can be explained scientifically.
«I use the word, God, in an impersonal sense, like Einstein did, for the laws of nature. The laws of science are sufficient to explain the origin of the universe. It is not necessary to invoke God,» – the scientist said.
Hawking believes the existence of aliens is completely possible. In addition, aliens could be hostile and could try to invade and colonize the Earth. According to Hawking, the arrival of aliens to Earth could have more dire consequences than when Christopher Columbus discovered America.
Hawking also sees a great degree of danger in computers – he is confident that in the next hundred years they will become smarter than humans. With that, there is a possibility that artificial intelligence could turn on mankind and enslave us.
Urges to find a new home for mankind in the Universe
The famous physicist also calls for more active research of the cosmos. He believes the risk of Earth dying as a result of some massive catastrophe is very real, and growing. With that, it would be best t start looking for a new home in the wide expanses of the Universe.
Among the scenarios that could result in the extermination of all mankind, Hawking mentions nuclear war caused by uncontrolled development of nuclear technologies, global warming and artificially created viruses.