This week Stephen Hawking will celebrate his 75th birthday. Hawking is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. All amazing positions, but to think that in 1963 he was told by doctors that he would not live another two years and yet in 2017 he is still alive.
Hawking suffers from a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around the clock care. But none of that has stopped him. I am utterly fascinated by the amazing force of determination this one man holds. And even though he is a serious scientist, facing outrageous medical odds, he still has a sense of humor like no other!
He is one of the most well known scientists although the pop culture geeks who follow him do not know (or do not understand) his studies. So, here (in pop culture fashion) are a few facts you may (or may not) know about Stephen Hawking:
- Hawking has never won the Nobel Prize (how is that possible??)
- At 9, Hawking ranked the worse in his class for his grades. However, his teachers could see that he had genius potential. They nicknamed him “Einstein”.
- He struggled with isolation his first year at Oxford. To overcome that, he joined the Rowing Team. He was not a great athlete (even before being diagnosed) and the team gave him the position of coxswains — a position that does not row, but rather controls steering and stroke rate. Being on the rowing team though was not good for his academics. He found himself trying to cut corners in his studies because of the demanding rigors of training for the rowing team.
- Hawking met his wife, Jane Wild, at a New Year’s Eve party. A week later, after his 21st birthday he would be admitted to the hospital and his medical obstacles began. When asked why she was willing to marry him, Jane said that in those times they lived under the “most awful nuclear cloud — that with a four minute warning the world itself could likely end.” She says they wanted “to make the most of whatever gifts were given us”.
- In 1983 he and Jim Hartle was able to confirm the theory that although it is a contained entity, the universe has no boundaries.
- In 2009, Hawking was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- In 2007, Stephen and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, collaborated to write “George’s Secret Key to the Universe.” It is a children’s book. I mean, after all, he has conquered so much of the world, why not add children’s author to his never-ending list of amazing accomplishments.
- On an episode of “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking”, Hawking admitted he believed in the possibility of aliens.
- Hawking also has booked a seat with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to ride on a sub-orbital flight. He believes humans are destroying Earth and that space travel will be important in our survival.
- Stephen Hawking’s birthday (January 8, 1942) is the 300th anniversary of the death of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
- His speech synthesizer has an American accent.
So, he is my historical figure of the week. Happy Birthday Stephen Hawking! The world needs more people like you in it.
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