Stephen Hawking

(b. 1942) English theoretical physicist

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(1943– )

British theoretical physicist whose main work has been on black holes and quantum gravity. He became a Companion of Honour in 1989.

Hawking was educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; after working in various institutions he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge in 1979. Since 1962 he has suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a rare crippling disease that has left him confined to a wheelchair, unable to write. Hawking's mind, however, has remained quite unaffected by his devastating disease. Able to work out complex equations without external aid and capable of retaining much technical data in his powerful memory, Hawking has been able, with the help of family and colleagues, to lead an active intellectual life and is indeed one of the world's most productive and creative theoretical physicists.

Through his work on black holes Hawking is widely known. In 1971 he argued that black holes could be formed other than by a star's gravitational collapse. They could have been produced, in the form of mini-black-holes, in the original big bang. These objects, if they exist, still await discovery. Hawking went on in 1974 to describe a process by which black holes could quite unexpectedly emit radiation at a steady rate; this is known as ‘Hawking radiation’. Hawking has also considered the problem of the quantization of gravity, although he has not yet reached any generally accepted conclusions. He explained his scientific theories in a best-selling book, A Brief History of Time (1987); subsequent publications include Black Holes and Baby Universes (1993) and (with Roger Penfold) The Nature of Space and Time (1996).

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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