The brightest star in the firmament of science
“Great men are not born great, they grow great,” thus says Mario Puzo in his world-famous novel ‘The Godfather’. Indeed, Stephen Hawking – a great physicist and author of ‘A Brief History of Time – who passed away on March 14, was a true manifestation of what Mario Puzo calls ‘great men’. Stephen Hawking was, indubitably, the brightest star in the firmament of science as his insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences, in millions. His courage and persistence along with his brilliance inspired people across the world. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.
Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942, the day that marked Galileo’s 300th death anniversary – Quite interestingly, he died on March 14, 2018, the one hundred and thirty-ninth anniversary of Albert Einstein’s birth.
In 1959, his family moved to St. Albans where he attended St. Albans School. Although Hawking was always ranked at the lower end of his class, his school friends nicknamed him ‘Einstein’ and encouraged his interest in science. His ambition brought him a scholarship to University College Oxford to read Natural Science. There he studied physics and graduated with a first class honours degree. He went to Cambridge in 1962 as a PhD student, and rose to become the Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton, in 1979. In 2007, he founded the Cambridge University’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. He retired from this position in 2009.
Professor Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – or Lou Gehrig’s disease – a disease in which motor neurons die, leaving the brain incapable of controlling muscles, when he was 21. He was, then, a doctoral student in cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Physicians, initially, gave him just a few years to live. This was devastating news for him and his family. However, his disease advanced more slowly than expected. He went on to have an active career for decades, both as a theoretical physicist and as a popularizer of science. Still, Hawking progressively lost use of most of his muscles, and for the last three decades of his life, he was communicating almost exclusively through a voice synthesizer.
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