Physics — one of the most existential-crisis-creating fields was where the mind of Stephen Hawking explored comfortably as he pursued the answer to “who created the universe?”
That pursuit of the cosmos ended in the early morning of March 14 — Einstein’s birthday — as he passed away in his Cambridge home in England at the age of 76.
His life is one that can arouse both compassion and wonder as he overcame obstacles that many would deem debilitating.
At the age of 22, the physicist was given only a few years to live as his body became overwhelmed by Lou Gehrig’s disease and deteriorated to only allow him to be able to make voluntary eye movements and flex one finger. His rare disease falls under that of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and was an early-onset slow-progressing form of the motor neurone disease that gradually paralyzed him over time.
But from the seat of a wheelchair, the disease left his mental facilities untouched and he triumphantly became one of the most influential physicists and minds of the era.
“It is a waste of time to be angry about my disability,” said Hawking. “One has to get on with life and I haven’t done badly. People won’t have time for you if you’re always angry or complaining.”
Among many of his best-selling novels; Hawking’s contribution to his field reshaped and moulded destructive voids into something more expansive and comprehensible, as he became known as the leader in exploring black holes and gravity. One of his dealings with black holes led to the enigmatic discovery of “Hawking radiation,” named after himself.
A black hole is described as a region of space that holds a gravitational field so intense that no form of matter or radiation can escape, they were also greatly considered to be black, destructive voids that once something went inside, it never came out. Hawking decided to apply quantum theory, which is the theoretical basis of modern physics that aims to explain the behaviour and nature of energy and matter on the atomic and subatomic level, to black holes in 1973.
Whilst applying the theories, a long and daunting calculation revealed the reality that black holes were not black at all. Through his calculation Hawking found that black holes eventually leak radiation and particles and finally explode to disappear over time. He admitted that he hadn’t expected to find particles leaking out of black holes and rather annoyingly “tripped over” the discovery.
The reveal of his findings is hailed by scientists as the first great landmark to connect gravity and quantum mechanics with a single theory of nature that help explain this complex world.
“You can ask what will happen to someone who jumps into a black hole,” said Hawking in 1978. “I certainly don’t think he will survive it. On the other hand, if we can send someone off to jump into a black hole, neither he nor his constituent atoms will come back. But his mass energy will come back. Maybe that applies to the whole universe.”
Through the discovery of Hawking radiation, he irreversibly altered the aesthetic of the black hole from being a destructive force to a force that recycles. Hawking also said that he wanted the formula for Hawking radiation to be engraved on his tombstone in 2002.