(Stephen William Hawking, Oxford, 1942 – Cambridge, 2018) British theoretical physicist. Despite his physical disabilities and the progressive limitations imposed by his degenerative illness, Stephen Hawking is probably the best-known physicist among the general public since Einstein’s time. Wrestler and winner, throughout his life he managed to overcome the immensity of impediments posed by the evil of Lou Gehrig, an amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that afflicted him since he was twenty years old. Hawking was, without a doubt, a particular case of vitality and resistance against the misfortune of destiny.
On January 8, 1942, the day on which three hundred years after the death of Galileo, Stephen Hawking was born in the city of Oxford. Like many others of middle class, his family supported with integrity the rigors of the Second World War; Towards the end of the fight, a German V2 rocket fell a few dozen meters from his home in Highgate, north of London. After attending high school, Hawking entered the University College of Oxford, where he graduated in 1962 with the titles of mathematician and physicist. At that time he was a normal life boy, whose singularities were only his brilliant intelligence and a great interest in science.
But in 1963, in the course of an ice skating session, the young Stephen slipped and had difficulty getting up. He was immediately diagnosed with a neuromuscular degenerative disorder, ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The doctors assumed that the disease was going to end his life in a few years; however, they were wrong. Naturally, Stephen’s life was not the same thereafter, but his physical limitations did not interrupt his intellectual activity at any time; in fact, they increased it.
In October 1962 he had begun his PhD studies at Trinity Hall in Cambridge. He requested to work with Fred Hoyle, but the famous astronomer had too many suitors and the request was denied; many years later, Hawking himself would see the bright side: had he been accepted, he would probably have been forced to defend Hoyle’s stationary state theory, discredited after the discovery of microwave background radiation in 1965.
While studying for his doctorate, he married Jane Wayline (1965), with whom he would have three children. After almost twenty-five years of life in common, in 1990 the couple separated and the scientist went to live with Elaine Mason, one of the nurses who looked after him and with whom five years later he got married; this second relationship would last until 2007. After obtaining the title of doctor in theoretical physics (1966), his passion for the study of the origin of the universe was increasing, and his research focused on the field of general relativity, particularly in the physics of black holes, first described by Robert Oppenheimer in 1939.
Certainly, Hawking is not only comparable with Albert Einstein for its popularity: like the formulator of the theory of relativity, Stephen Hawking set out the ambitious goal of harmonizing general relativity and quantum mechanics, in search of a unification of the physical that would account for both the universe and subatomic phenomena. In 1971 he suggested the formation, after the big bang, of numerous objects called “black holes”, which would contain about one billion metric tons of mass, but would occupy only the space of one proton, a circumstance that would originate enormous gravitational fields, ruled by the laws of relativity.
His studies on the black holes would lead him to combine for the first time the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics to solve the problem of studying these structures of very small dimensions and extraordinarily high density, which was not believed to be obtainable some knowledge In 1974 he proposed, according to the predictions of quantum physics, that black holes emit thermal radiation until their energy is exhausted and extinguished. Hawking has also explored some singularities of the space-time binomial.
In 1974 Hawking was appointed member of the Royal Society and, three years later, professor of gravitational physics in Cambridge, where he was awarded the Lucasiana chair of mathematics (1980), which had been dictated by such egregious figures as Isaac Newton and, more recently, Paul Dirac. Hawking would continue to hold this chair until his retirement in 2009. But as the intellectual achievements and recognitions were happening in his life (he received countless awards and honorary doctorates), the degenerative process of his disease. First the immobility of his limbs led him to depend on a wheelchair; then the paralysis spread to almost his entire body; in 1985 he contracted a pneumonia that forced doctors to perform a tracheotomy, after which he completely lost his speech. From then on he could only communicate through a synthesizer connected to his chair, but not even that demoralized him: he wrote seven other books and continued publishing articles and giving lectures.
A great popularizer
It is a great paradox, no doubt, that a man who was fully involved in the task of clarifying scientific concepts for the average public (unlike most of his colleagues, Hawking decided decidedly by disclosure) would have to face hard with the difficulty of being able to communicate them. However, thanks to his persistence and tenacity, he did not stop saving the pitfalls that were derived from his physical disabilities. In 1989, on the occasion of his visit to Spain to receive the Prince of Asturias Award, Stephen Hawking stressed the importance of ordinary citizens possessing sufficient scientific notions to participate in debates that open new scientific and technological advances, avoiding that everything is in the hands of the experts.
That is the message that is discovered in some of his most famous books, such as Historia del tiempo: from the big bang to black holes (1988), which has been translated into thirty-seven languages and from which in a few years more than twenty million copies. In his intention to get the book to a broad audience, Stephen Hawking renounces the formulas and exhibitions for specialists, but does not abandon the rigorous treatment of the issue. It proceeds first to a broad presentation of current cosmological ideas (the big bang and the expansion of the universe), as well as the main findings of particle physics, which explain at a subatomic level what matter is like and the forces that govern it. . Hawking highlights the surprising convergence of these two research paths, which have given birth to a new discipline: the astrophysics of particles.
In History of Time, the author also addresses, always keeping the tone of high disclosure, issues such as black holes and, in addition to the origin, the possible fate of the universe. Nor does it elude the question that the common man formulates when faced with these questions: the role of God in all these phenomena, as well as the creation of the universe, a point at which Stephen Hawking abandons the rigorously scientific treatment to venture into the uncertain paths of metaphysical speculation.
Other later books, such as Black Holes and Small Universes (1994), The Universe in a Nutshell (2002) or The Great Design (2010), manifest an even greater informative intention than their previous books. Regarding its more specialized bibliography, its efforts to describe from a theoretical point of view the properties of black holes, as well as the relationship that these properties have with the laws of classical thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, have been collected in works as The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (1973, in collaboration with GFR Ellis), Superspace and Supergravity (1981) and The Very Early Universe (1983).