Net Worth: $20 million
If there is a contemporary scientist that everyone knows about, who enjoys a celebrity status but is also a genius, then that’s Stephen Hawking. He's known by those who love or hate physics alike, especially since the release of the film 'The Theory of Everything', that tells about his struggle with ALS. The ideas about the beginning of the universe, and highly inspirational quotes are the legacy of this one of a kind man.
Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford in England. His parents were Frank and Isobel, who, although both financially challenged, managed to attend the University of Oxford. Frank was a medical researcher and Isobel was a secretary when they met. Hawking also has two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother Edward.
When Hawking was eight years old, his father became the head of division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research, and the family moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire where they were known as being slightly eccentric and introvert. Education was their top one priority, and his parents made sure that he attended the best schools they could get him in. Unfortunately, on the day of a scholarship examination for a Westminster School, Hawking got ill and therefore could not get in, as his parents weren’t able to pay the school fees themselves.
As a boy, Hawking had close friends and his hobbies were board games, fireworks, model airplanes and boats, as well as long intellectual discussions. In 1958, he and his friends built a computer from old parts. A big influence on his intellect was made by his mathematics teacher, Dikran Tahta, who inspired him to take mathematics when the time came to go to university. However, influenced by his father’s practical concerns, he ended up studying physics and chemistry. At the age of seventeen, he began his education at University College in Oxford. He didn’t quite fit in at the beginning, but during his last years, he made friends and became quite popular. He also joined the college boat club. After graduating in natural science, he went on a trip to Iran with a friend, and when he returned he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall in Cambridge.
Soon, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. This discovery made him depressed, especially since he was told he had only two years to live, so he felt there was no point to continue his studies. Fortunately, his disease progressed slower than he was told it would. He did have trouble walking without his walking stick, and his speech was difficult to understand. With support from his surroundings, he got back to his work. Soon, he challenged the work of Fred Hoyle and his student Jayant Narlikar at a lecture, and got a reputation of being brilliant. ‘Never give up work.’, he said later on. ‘Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.’ Known for the quotes that are, at times, highly motivational, he also added: ‘My expectations were reduced to zero when I was twenty-one. Everything since then has been a bonus.’, and ‘I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die.’
In 1965, Hawking wrote his thesis on the topic of the theorem of a spacetime singularity in the centre of black holes, applying this thinking to the entire universe. This got him to receive a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College. He then got a PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specializing in general relativity and cosmology.
In 1966, Hawking wrote an essay entitled Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time, which got him that year’s Adams Prize, shared with Roger Penrose.
In 1969, Hawking received a specially created Fellowship for Distinction in Science to remain at Caius College.
Collaborating with Penrose, in 1970, they published a proof that if the universe follows the general theory of relativity and fits any of the models of physical cosmology developed by Alexander Friedmann, then it must have begun as a singularity.
Hawking was also appointed to the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he worked with a friend, Kip Thorne. Since then, Hawking had been spending a month at the college every year.
That same year, Hawking came out with the second law of black hole dynamics. With colleagues James M. Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he proposed four laws of black hole mechanics, making a parallel with thermodynamics. An essay he wrote, titled Black Holes, won the Gravity Research Foundation award in 1971. Two years later, he wrote his first book, collaborating with George Ellis: The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time.
That same year, Hawking studied quantum gravity and quantum mechanics. In 1974, he was elected, as the youngest scientist ever, to become a Fellow of the Royal Society.
In 1975, Hawking returned to his work in Cambridge, while the public’s interest for him began to grow. He was awarded numerous prizes, like the Eddington Medal, Pius XI Gold Medal, and the Dannie Heineman Prize, the Maxwell Prize and the Hughes Medal the next year. He also became a professor with a chair in gravitational physics, and received the Albert Einstein Medal and an honorary doctorate at the University of Oxford, and was also elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
Around that time, he changed his approach to physics and has become more intuitive, saying he would rather be ‘right than rigorous’.
In 1981, at a conference in Vatican, Hawking talked about his work saying there might be no beginning or ending to the universe. That year he was also awarded the American Franklin Medal.
In 1982, Hawking and Gary Gibbons organized a three-week Nuffield Workshop, titled The Very Early Universe, which was held at Cambridge University and was focused on cosmological inflation theory. That year he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
The following year, Hawking and Jim Hartle published a model, Hartle-Hawking sate, which was to show that in the beginnings, the universe had no boundary in space-time, as before the Big Bang, time didn’t exist and the concept of beginning of the universe therefore loses its meaning.
In 1988, Hawking published A Brief History of Time, a book written so the general public could understand his theories. The book became a bestseller, translated into numerous languages, and bringing Hawking the attention of a wide audience, calling him the Master of the Universe and soon turning him into a celebrity.
With time, Hawking continued to receive recognition, with awards such as the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Paul Dirac Medal, the Wolf Prize, and was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour.
In 1992, a film version of A Brief History of Time was shot, directed by Errol Morris and produced by Steven Spielberg.
In 1993, a collection of essays and interviews with Hawking were published as Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.
In 1996, Hawking and Penrose’s lectures were published in a book The Nature of Space and Time.
In 1997, a six-part television series appeared, titled Stephen Hawking’s Universe, along with a book of the same title.
In 2001, Hawking published The Universe in a Nutshell, A Briefer History of Time in 2005, and God Created the Integers in 2006. Since that year, he’s been busy developing a theory of top-down cosmology, stating that the universe has more than one unique initial state.
More awards followed: Copley Medal from the Royal Society, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Russian Special Fundamental Physics Prize.
In 2007, Hawking published George’s Secret Key to the Universe, a children’s book he wrote with his daughter Lucy, in order to get closer to the younger audience. They also continued to write the book’s sequels.
Hawking has also been honoured by having buildings named after him. He has also supervised tens of successful PhD students until he retired from Cambridge University in 2009 as a professor, but continues to work there as the director of research.
Stephen Hawking is one of the rare scientists to ever become a celebrity. He enjoys his status very much, as he is a very social person, and it has given his profession the much needed attention of the wider audience, reaching out to everyone, not just those who love science.
His ideas and his inspirational messages move people around the world. Let’s take, for example, the fact that he tested time travel by hosting a real party open to all, but publicizing it only after it was over. The fact that no one showed up was his proof that if there were the tourists from the future, they would know their way to him.
Hawking is also keen to appear on shows such as The Simpsons, and documentaries about himself. He also advertised products and has applied to trademark his name.
Although he suffers from ALS, he was not happy about being the spokesperson for the disease in the beginning, as all he wanted was to escape from it. ‘The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.’, he jokes. He is a supporter for the legalization of the assisted suicide. In 2014, he accepted the Ice Bucked Challenge for the promotion of the ALS, but his children were the ones to undergo the challenge due to his fragile health.
Hawking is also one of the few people to have lived this long with the disease. He is recognizable for his special wheelchair and a computer software that makes it possible for him to communicate, instead of being locked in his own mind. He controls his device with cheek muscle movements and the voice he uses is of an American accent, but when the time came for him to get another voice, he declined, having identified with the one he’s been using for years.
Stephen Hawking’s life has been marked with his motor neurone disease. Although when diagnosed he was given only two more years to live, he continues to break the record and enjoys a fulfilling life, although constantly in a wheelchair and able to speak only via a specially programmed computer. He says: ‘Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.’
Hawking had been in a relationship with Jane Wilde shortly before his diagnosis. Jane stayed with him through the tough times, and the couple got engaged in 1964, and married a year later. Jane was also a student and when she began her PhD programme, she gave birth to their first child, son Robert. Then in 1970, she gave birth to a daughter, Lucy, and in 1979 to another son Timothy.
As Hawking’s illness progressed, Jane’s responsibilities grew. Soon, they took in a medical student to help them with care. Soon, he was replaced with Don Page and a secretary, and Jane was able to get back to working on her thesis and exploring singing as her hobby. In 1977, Jane met an organist, Jonathan Hellyer Jones, who soon became a close friend to the family. With time, he and Jane developed feelings for each other. Hawking was aware of their relationship that stayed platonic for years. In late 1980s, Hawking became close to one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. This resulted in his divorce from Jane in 1995 and him marrying Mason that same year.
In 1999, Jane published a memoir titled Music to Move the Stars.
Mason seemed to have a lot of power over him, separating him even from his family. A police investigation took place as his staff and family were concerned that he was physically abused, but the investigation closed as Hawking made no complaint about the situation.
In 2006, Hawking and Mason divorced. Jane published another book in 2007: Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, that was made into a film The Theory of Everything in 2014.
‘My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all’, Hawking says about his life purpose.
- A Brief History of Time (1988)
- Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)
- On The Shoulders of Giants (2002)
- God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History (2005)
- The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of (2011)
- My Brief History (2013)
Written by: Tamara Djordjevic