Stephen Hawking: Google pays tribute to theoretical physicist

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The latest Google Doodle video honors the life, legacy, and works of Stephen Hawking, one of the great physicists and cosmologists of our time.

Life of Stephen Hawking

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England, into a family of doctors who highly valued education. Hawking received much of his early education at St. Albans School in Hertfordshire, including learning mathematics from Dikran Tahta, a man Hawking would later call an inspiration.

Having taken an interest in science and following Tahta’s lead, Stephen Hawking wanted to study mathematics in college. Hawking’s father had other plans, though, wishing for his son to attend University College, Oxford like he did. At the age of 17, despite the school not having a mathematics major, and his father’s wishes that he study medicine, Stephen Hawking enrolled at University College, Oxford with a focus on physics and chemistry.

While at University College, Stephen Hawking gradually developed a popular personality and joined one of the school’s rowing crews. In his final year at the school, Hawking began to experience physical issues including falling down the stairs and issues with rowing.

After graduating with honors, Hawking went on to study cosmology at the University of Cambridge in 1962. Over the following months, his issues got worse, including his speech becoming slurred. As his friends and family began to notice the changes, at which point Hawking sought medical advice.

In 1963, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) with doctors estimating he had only two years to live. Between a passion for his work and a blossoming relationship with Jane Wilde — whom he would later marry — Hawking found the strength to carry on far longer than predicted, receiving his PhD in 1966.

Many of Stephen Hawking’s greatest theories and proofs, including his PhD thesis, involved the physics of black holes. In 1974, Hawking was able to show that black holes emit a form of radiation, now referred to as “Hawking radiation.”

By this time, the ALS had progressed to a point that made walking difficult, but Hawking initially rebelled against using a wheelchair, to detach himself from his disease. Even once he did transition to using a wheelchair, his rebellious spirit continued, garnering a reputation for driving recklessly. After losing his ability to speak, Hawking was given a program called “Equalizer,” in 1986. Equalizer allowed him to select from a list of words and have them spoken aloud, giving Hawking his signature “voice,” which he grew to identify with.

Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.

— Stephen Hawking

Another of Hawking’s desires was to spur an interest in cosmology and physics in others. His greatest work in that regard is the 1988 bestselling book A Brief History of Time, which takes the difficult concepts of theoretical physics & questions about the universe and makes them accessible to a broader audience. The book’s enormous success saw Hawking rise to celebrity status, but he still endeavored to make time for his physics work for decades beyond.

Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge, England, on March 14, 2018.

Stephen Hawking Google Doodle

To best honor the life, genius, and humanity of Stephen Hawking on what would have been his 80th birthday, Google has crafted a two-minute video to be displayed on the company’s homepage. The video, created by Google Doodler Matthew Cruickshank, is full of quotes from Hawking (specially generated in his voice) and is heavily inspired by the graphics of games from the ZX Spectrum computer.

Over on the Google Doodle blog, you can find an interview with Cruickshank, as well as a message from Stephen Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim, and touching photos of the family.

We also believe he would have found it important to show that he never allowed the challenges of his physical condition to limit his power of expression nor his determination to make an impact on the world in which he lived. We hope that his example offers inspiration and hope globally to all who face great challenges at this difficult time. Our father would have been 80 years old today and we thank everyone who has joined in the celebration of his extraordinary life and the legacy he gave to us all.

— Lucy, Robert, & Tim Hawking

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