The late Stephen Hawking was a true symbol when it came to mind over matter. Despite being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of just 21, he roamed the cosmos from his wheelchair and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world. Arguably the most popular physicist on earth, he will be sadly missed by all. Here are some things you might not have known about this great man.
It may come as a shock to learn that Hawking was a slacker when it came to his studies at school. When he was 9 years old, his grades actually ranked amongst the worst in his class. Despite this, he still shared a fascination for how things worked and was known to disassemble clocks and radios, but admitted he wasn’t much good at putting them back together.
Despite his poor grades, both his teachers and his peers seemed to understand that they had a future genius among them, evidenced by the fact that his nickname was “Einstein.”
The problem with his mediocre grades was that his father wanted to send him to Oxford, but didn’t have the money. Luckily, when it came time for the scholarship exams, he aced them, getting a near perfect score on the physics exam.
Much has been said about Hawking facing isolation during his first year in Oxford, however the thing that seemed to have drawn him out of this was joining the rowing team.
Even before being diagnosed with a physically disabling illness, Hawking didn’t have a naturally athletic build. However, row teams recruited smaller men like Hawking to be ‘coxswains’ — a position that doesn’t row, but controls steering and stroke rate instead.
At Oxford rowing was extremely competitive, so Hawking’s role on the team made him very popular, with a fellow team member referring to Hawking as the adventurous kind!
As a graduate student, Hawking gradually started showing symptoms of tripping and general clumsiness. Before seeing a specialist, however, he attended a New Year’s party where he met his future wife, Jane Wilde, who was attracted to his this sense of humour and his independent personality.
A week later he turned 21, and shortly after he entered the hospital for two weeks of tests to discover what was wrong with him. He was then diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurological disease that causes loss of control to voluntary muscles. He was told he’d probably only have a few years to live.
Perhaps one of the most unexpected facets of Stephen Hawking’s resume is that he was a book author. In 2007, Stephen and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, collaborated to write “George’s Secret Key to the Universe.”
The book is a fictional story about a young boy, George, who rebels against his parents’ aversion to technology. He begins to befriend neighbours, one of whom is a physicist with a computer. This turns out to be most powerful computer in the world, which offers portals to see and enter into outer space. Naturally, much of the book is meant to explain heavy scientific concepts, such as black holes and the origin of life to children. In this context, it is very fitting that Hawking, who always sought to make his work more accessible, would want to write such a book.
Considering all of Hawking’s work in cosmology, people are understandably interested in his opinions on the possibility of alien life. During NASA’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2008 he expressed that, given the vastness of the universe, there very well could be primitive alien life out there, and it is possible, other intelligent life.
“Primitive life is very common,” Hawking said, “and intelligent life is very rare.” Of course, he threw in his characteristically sharp humour to say, “Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth. He went on the say that humans should be wary of exposure to aliens because alien life will probably not be DNA-based, and we would not have resistance to diseases.
At the tender age of just 21 Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and as a consequence his day to life became more and more of a struggle. This meant Hawking required round the clock care, mostly done by his wife, Jane at first.
In 1985 he contracted pneumonia. The pneumonia was so crippling that doctors asked his wife if she would consider taking her husband off life support. Jane refused to pull the plug, and doctors performed a tracheotomy to save Stephen’s life. This is how he lost his ability to speak.
Ever since his near fatal bout of pneumonia in 1985, Stephen Hawking has communicated using a word synthesiser, which produced his signature robot like voice. Intel have made continuous improvements to the device throughout the years, although Hawking was adamant about not changing its robotic, American-accented voice. He considers this recognisable tone a vital part of his identity, as if it were his natural voice.