Shakespeare had said in one of his dramas once, “When beggars die there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Perhaps these lines are quite close for being suitable to refer to the tragic death of the English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge, none other than Stephen Hawking.

During his college days, he came closer to Jane Wilde, his first spouse, shortly before his motor neuron disorder was diagnosed. In future, it didn’t only left him 99% paralysed, but also seized away his family from him. Though he married Elaine Mason in 1995, after his divorce with Jane Wilde in the same year, that relationship too didn’t last long. Except for his lower jaw, his whole body had become paralysed. Only by the help of his brain and that jaw, he came, he saw and he conquered the modern scenario of science.

Hawking during his graduation days.

His career began with the extension of the Singularity Theorem. Next, in 1970 he postulated what came to be known as the second law of black hole dynamics, that even the horizon of a black hole doesn’t get smaller. With James M. Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he proposed the four laws of black hole mechanics, drawing an analogy with thermodynamics. His essay titled “Black Holes” won the Gravity Research Foundation Award in January 1971. Hawking’s first book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, written with George Ellis, was published in 1973.

Hawking moved into the study of quantum gravity and quantum mechanics in 1973. His work in this area was spurred by a visit to Moscow and discussions with Yakov Borisovich Zel’dovich and Alexei Starobinsky, whose work showed that according to the uncertainty principle, rotating black holes emit particles. His results, which Hawking presented from 1974, showed that black holes emit radiation, known today as Hawking radiation, which may continue until they exhaust their energy and evaporate. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1974, a few weeks after his announcement of Hawking radiation. At that time, he was one of the youngest scientists to become a Fellow!

Hawking was appointed to the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1970. He worked with a friend on the faculty, Kip Thorne, and engaged him in a scientific wager about whether the dark star Cygnus X-1 was a black hole. Hawking returned to Cambridge in 1975 to a more academically senior post, as reader in gravitational physics.

In the late 1970s, Hawking was elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. His inaugural lecture as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics was titled: “Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics” and proposed N=8 Supergravity as the leading theory to solve many of the outstanding problems physicists were studying. In 1981, he proposed that information in a black hole is irretrievably lost when a black hole evaporates.

Hawking did not rule out the existence of a Creator, asking in A Brief History of Time “Is the unified theory so compelling that it brings about its own existence?” In his early work, Hawking spoke of God in a metaphorical sense. In A Brief History of Time he wrote: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.” In the same book he suggested that the existence of God was not necessary to explain the origin of the universe. Later discussions with Neil Turok led to the realisation that the existence of God was also compatible with an open universe.

Apart from contributing numerous valuables to science, Mr. Hawking also won many awards and honours. Adams Prize (1966), Eddington Medal (1975), Maxwell Medal and Prize (1976), Heineman Prize (1976), Hughes Medal (1976), Albert Einstein Award (1978), RAS Gold Medal (1985), Dirac Medal (1987), Wolf Prize (1988) are some instances.

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