Society - People
By: - at May 8, 2015

15 Interesting Things You Should Know About Stephen Hawking

The world and history of science has had many important names attached to it over the years. Archimedes shaped the very beginning of scientific theory. Alfred Binet invented the I.Q. test. A certain Sir Isaac Newton is known for his theory of gravity and inspired a legend of a falling apple, and Albert Einstein was the father of the law of relativity, which states that nothing can travel beyond the speed of light. All of these men contributed to help shape science into what it is today.

Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton

However, we have many men in our own time who are just as well known and will likely be as well-remembered by the future generations. One of those inspiring men of science is Stephen Hawking, who has laid out many theories concerning space, black holes, and the very future of our species.

Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking

He is known to many for his brilliant mind despite suffering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease. However, there is much more to him than just that. Here are 15 engrossing facts you might be interested in knowing about this fascinating and world-shaking man.

15)  A Very Interesting Birth Date
Stephen Hawking was born under Frank and Isobel Hawking in Oxford, during the Second World War. The exact date was January 8, 1942. It's a fascinating thing to note however, that this date was actually already well known because of another famous physicist, scientist, and mathematician. On January 8, the Italian philosopher Galileo Galilei died after heart palpitations and a fever when he was 77. The year was 1642, exactly 300 years before Mr. Hawking was born. These men have much more in common that a shared significant date, though. They are best known for their contributions to science as a whole.

Galileo Galilei
Galileo Galilei

Both men have given much to the community of science, especially concerning the wonders of space. Hawking wrote the ground-breaking theory of how a black hole could produce radiation, and the phenomenon is now known as Hawking radiation. Galileo gave just as much to the world with his own discoveries. It was in 1609 that he created the first telescope, and one year later he observed the moons of Jupiter rotating around the planet. Both discoveries have helped to expand understanding of the universe at large.

Geometrical and Military Compass Designed by Galileo Galilei
Geometrical and Military Compass
By Sage Ross via Wikimedia Commons

14)  Busting the Stereotype
The image of the stuffy scientist has never really applied to Stephen Hawking. The man has always had a funny wit and sense of humor. However, where this really shines is in the several appearances he's made in television and cartoons as himself. Many of them are in a comedic light, though a few roles have been serious. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, his character is a hologram of himself in the episode TNG 252: Descent, Part 1. While it doesn't have much to do with the plot, it shows him as one of the three great minds of the ages, and during interview it's revealed that Hawking himself desired a role in the iconic science fiction series.

star trek
By Eladkse via Wikimedia Commons

He also appears in the cartoon, the Simpsons, in the episode, “They Saved Lisa's Brain”. His iconic computerized voice is used in the episode, actually spoken and recorded by Hawking's voice generator. In a similar cartoon, Futurama, he makes several small appearances throughout different seasons and of varying plot importance. He has also made a single appearance in person in the show, The Big Bang Theory.

13)  Despite Being Nicknamed Einstein, He Was Not Great in School
When Hawking was much younger, his grades were exceptionally poor. He was often ranked the lowest in his class, and even when he put forth effort, he generally fell into the middle of the class – barely average. He started his rocky education in Bryon House School, yet did not even learn to read while he was there. This was something he blamed on what he called their “progressive methods”.

Byron House School
Byron House School

However, many around him knew that he was smart, no matter what his grades might have shown. This fact was proven when the time for examinations came around in order to earn scholarships for further schooling. Hawking aced all his tests, doing particularly well in physics, and earned a scholarship. It's not unheard of for bright children to do poorly in school work due to feeling unchallenged and bored, something that clearly applied to the young genius. His grades became much better after he seemed to get more serious about his goals and work.

stephen hawking

12)  Attended a Girl's School at a Young Age
In his early years, Stephen Hawking actually did attend a girl's school. When he was eight years old, he was a student for a few years at St. Albans High School for Girls. This was because of a family move to St. Albans, Hertfordshire due to a promotion his father received that made him the head of the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research. Despite the name and being known as a girl's school, St. Albans High School for Girls did not have a girl's only policy. Thus, Stephen Hawking was not the only male student present. In fact, for the younger grades in particular, the school was like any other coed institution.

Adult Black Fly with Parasite Emerging from its Antenna
parasitology hawking

In the 1950's, young boys his age were permitted to attend the school and be part of one of the houses, but only up to the age of 10. This was for that reason he was only at the school from 1950 to 1953; after that he was too old to remain a student. He then transferred from St. Albans to continue his grade school education, no doubt along with many other boys in his class.

St Albans Cathedral
St Albans Cathedral
By Matt Sims via Wikimedia Commons

11)  A Member of the Oxford Rowing Team
While today the image of the brilliant man tragically stuck in a wheelchair is what we think of when Stephen Hawking is mentioned, he was far more physically active and outgoing during his college years at Oxford. The first year-and-a-half proved boring and stagnant for him, and so he tried to enrich his experience with the other students and participate in more than just his studies. He became a member of the rowing team, the coxswain, which means he was in charge of the rowing pace and where the boat was steered to. It was ideal for Hawking, as he was not all that physically fit even when in good health. He was not required to do much physically, but still he gained some popularity for his adventurous moves.

Oxford Rowing Team
Oxford Rowing Team

The sport was considered highly competitive at Oxford, and it helped him to gain friends and pulled him out of his funk. His steering was considered very risky and he had a daredevil sort of persona, making moves that often would damage the boats.

Hawking and His Mother
Hawking and His Mother

10)  At 21, He Was Only Given a Few Years to Live
During his final year at Oxford, Hawking began to develop difficulties with his body. He started to become clumsy and had problems with the rowing. There was even an accident where he fell down the stairs when his muscles didn't obey him properly. He'd also begun to have problems with speaking, his voice slowing down and his words slurring badly. It was when he went home for Christmas that the deterioration became clear; the sudden change from when his family had last seen him made it only too obvious that something was wrong.

stephen hawking

He was only 21 when he went in for medical examinations and learned he had ALS. The average life expectancy for the disease was only a couple years at the best, and so the doctors gave him the chilling news. He only had a short time left to live, even under the best of circumstances. However, the conclusion could not have been more wrong. A full 50 years after the diagnosis was given, the man still lives despite the deterioration of his body.

9)  Numerous Awards
Because of his many works in scientific theory, ranging from lectures and papers to whole books, it's no surprise that Hawking's brilliance has been recognized several times over the years. Both officially and unofficially, he has received much praise from colleagues and associates. Officially, his awards span many years and are from many different people, organizations, and countries. Going over all the awards he has received would be a list in and of itself though, but there are several ones that are worth mentioning.

Hawking and John Paul II
hawking and john paul II

Of these included the Pius XI Gold Medal for Science, given to him by the Pope Paul VI. Also among his collection are the Albert Einstein Award and Hughes Medal from the Royal Society, which he became a member of in 1974. Also, just in 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President Barack Obama. Despite his many achievements though, he has yet to win a Nobel Prize. Well, maybe they're saving that for a special occasion, like if they don't know what to give him for his next birthday.

Hawking and Obama
Hawking and Obama

8)  He Once Lost a Bet Over Black Holes
While we often regard Mr. Stephen Hawking as a super genius, he hasn't always been right. Yes, even a man with his mind and caliber can be wrong. In the year 1997, Hawking made a bet with John Preskill. When a star burns out, it loses a fight with gravity and falls in on itself, creating what we know as a black hole. Hawking believed that radiation is created by the phenomenon, but he also stated he'd been led to believe that information itself was lost in the black hole. This however conflicts with the rules of quantum mechanics and created a bit of a paradox.

John Preskill
John Preskill

When Preskill provided another theory that information could actually escape and not break quantum mechanics at all, a bet was made between the two men. It wasn't until almost a decade later in 2004 when Hawking publicly admitted defeat in the bet and stated that information actually couldn't be lost when measuring all the topologies that comprise of a dark hole. At the very least, you can certainly say he's a good loser.

7)  Collaborated on a Children's Book with Own Daughter
Following his divorce of his first wife, Jane Hawking, previously Jane Wilde, Stephen Hawking married one of his nurses. The marriage caused several rifts between him and his family, who were concerned for him despite his insistence that he was happy. However, many years afterward, the second marriage ended in a quiet divorce, and Hawking started to become reacquainted with his children and grandchildren. One of the results of this was a book written with his daughter, Lucy Hawking. The book is called “George's Secret Key to the Universe” and is the first part of a planned trilogy.

Stephen and Lucy Hawking
Stephen and Lucy Hawking

Despite fictional nature of the story, it is intended to explain the complicated scientific concepts of dying stars, black holes, and the very origins of life to young children. Written specifically for that purpose, it helps make Hawking's theories more accessible to others, something he has always desired. The first book has been followed by two sequels to complete the trilogy, “George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt” and “George and the Big Ba-newng” respectively.

6)  His Bestselling Book “A Brief History of Time”
Hawking's attempts at writing books have always been successful, but it was his very first book published that made him a household name. His very first book, “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes,” is also his top best seller of all time. It was originally published by the Bantam Dell Publishing Group in 1988, and held a spot in the best seller list of London's Sunday Times for over four years. This isn't surprising, when you realize that the book has successfully sold more than ten million copies. Many different editions of the book also now exist, including an abridged version entitled “A Briefer History of Time” and several revisions that include more theories and diagrams to further explain the content.

breif history of time

Amazingly enough, the popularity of the book is so great, there is even an opera commissioned based on the book that is set to debut in 2015 or 2016. The commission was made by New York's own Metropolitan Opera and will be composed by Osvaldo Golijov. Not something you often see happen with books on scientific theory.

5)  Believes It Is Possible That There Are Aliens
Like any respectable scientist, Stephen Hawking does not go around stating things as fact without clear evidence to back up his claims. However, he does often share his views and opinions on many matters. A belief he has developed over the years is that there may be life out amongst the stars. Not surprising when one takes into account just how vast the universe is. He doesn't believe, though, that aliens are within our galaxy.

stephen hawking

He spoke on this subject at the 50th anniversary of NASA, where he'd been invited to speak. He stating that since primitive life was common, there was a good chance of something alive existing out there in the stars, but it would probably be in humanity's best interest to stay away from such life and not seek it out. He believes that such an encounter would not be in humanity's best interest, as interactions with a foreign life form could bring about diseases we could not fight, or in a more violent case, the aliens may wish to conquer the earth and its inhabitants. Those are the worst-case-scenarios he mentioned.

4)  Believes Space Travel Is the Way of the Future
Even with the risk of possible alien invasion or the chance of their version of the common cold wiping the whole human race out, Mr. Stephen Hawking still believes that space exploration is one of the most important things we should pursue and could possibly accomplish. When he was 65 years old in 2007, he experienced a ride in an airplane owned by Zero Gravity Corp. The plane makes a flight with sharp ascents and descents in order to create the same zero gravity feeling that is experienced in space. Free of his wheelchair for the first time in over four decades, Hawking was able to do gymnastic flips and floated along, unhampered by his disability.


He supports private space exploration for more than just thrills and fun however. He's been cited as saying that he thinks the future of the human race depends on our ability to travel to the stars. Whether because of the earth being swallowed up by the sun, global warming or even nuclear war, the human race will need to go out into space in order to survive. He also wants the average person to be able to go into space and see other planets, essentially space tourism that anyone could be able to enjoy.

String Theorists David Gross, Edward Witten (from left) and Stephen Hawking
String Theorists David Gross, Edward Witten

3)  Supports Assisted Suicide
When he first found that he had ALS, like many who suddenly find themselves classified as disabled, he was resistant to the changes that meant. He didn't want to be looked down on, and at first fought even having to use a cane to help himself get around. He didn't like to be thought of lesser than anyone else around him, and felt self-conscious about the fact that people around him might be uncomfortable due to his condition. In more recent years however, he has quite publicly accepted his ability to be a role model to others who suffer disabilities, proving that even if the cards are stacked against you, you can accomplish what you set out to do. One of the aspects of this support is that he believes people should have the option of assisted suicide.

Jack Kavorkian
Jack Kavorkian

“We don't let animals suffer, so why humans?” A shocking but true statement Hawking made during an interview with BBC. He holds the position that if a terminally ill person is in pain and wishes to end his or her life without suffering and to maintain dignity, assisted suicide should be a legal option. However, he's also stated firmly that safeguards should be in place in order to ensure that the family is not pressuring the ill person into suicide. Assisted suicide should not become a breeding ground for abuse, but truly just a way to help people who find it too hard to continue on.

Kevorkian and his Death Machine

2)  Has Unique Voice for the AAC Device
It is interesting to note that despite his voice being long gone at this point, the 'voice' that is produced by his own personal augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device is now considered to be his alone by use and merit. It's become linked to him and is widely recognized after years of hearing it come from the portable computer on his wheelchair. The American accent in the AAC device is no longer commercially available. He was made the offer to switch to a British accent in order to match the country he is from. He rejected the offer though, preferring to stick to the one he had already. Just as those that have listened to him have gotten used to the tone, he identifies with the voice and thinks of it as his own.

Mini AAC Device
Mini AAC Device

It is ironic to know however that originally he was less than thrilled with the idea of communicating this way. Like other changes, he was originally resistant to this one because it emphasized his disabilities. He received a computer called the “Equalizer” from Walt Woltosz, which was later modified by David Mason, a computer programmer and ex-husband to his second wife, Elaine Mason. Once a desktop computer, it was made to be carried around with him. He later stated, “I can communicate better now than before I lost my voice,” because of it.

stephen hawking

1)  Supposed Equation on Time Travel?
To be sure, there had always been a bit of a free spirit about Hawking found in how he conducts himself and what he believes in. Even how he interacts with other people makes them think of a man who has never considered himself beaten by life, but merely challenged by it. His sense of humor has gotten him through many things as well as his intellect. Even as a world renowned genius, he has never passed up on the opportunity for a good joke.

Hawking and Astronauts
Hawking and Astronauts

During the lead-up to their 15th anniversary in 1995, The Face magazine wrote to Stephen Hawking and asked him for a time travel formula that they could put into their magazine. What they received in response was not what they had hoped for, but it was an amusing reply nonetheless. Faxed back to them was one page in response to their query that stated, “Thank you for your recent fax. I do not have any equations for time travel. If I had, I would win the National Lottery every week. - S W Hawking” Maybe not exactly what they were hoping for in terms of science, but dry wit comedy at its finest.

At 71 years old, it's easy to see exactly how much Stephen Hawking has contributed to the world of mathematicians, scientists, disabled, and everyone else on the planet. As a man who was never known to completely conform, but instead to always strive for more and learn what he can, it's easy to see just how he has accomplished so much and is held in such regard by his peers. It's more than just the theories he had written, or how he pushes on despite his medical misfortune. It's the fact he would do these things despite how he might have lived. Even if his life had been radically different, in his mind he has always been free. He still would have given us this treasured knowledge, but knowing these things about him and seeing him for the person that he is can be every bit as enlightening and any of his theories.






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