Stephen Hawking - The Man Behind the Computerized Voice

Published March 14, 2018 by .

Stephen Hawking, English physicist and author, the man with the computerized voice, died peacefully at his Cambridge home in 2018 aged 76.

Stephen Hawking - The Man Behind the Computerized Voice

Stephen Hawking, the man with the computerized voice, has become a part of popular culture, making his approach into TV shows and songs. He has had a prestigious occupation as a cosmologist who was able to communicate the wonders of the universe in spite of a progressive and debilitating condition.

The English physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time has been a national treasure. His life story is one of braveness and incessant pursuit of knowledge. The legendary scientist ultimately had to rely on a computer to communicate after his health started declining while studying at Oxford.

Stephen Hawking at NASA's StarChild Learning Center
Stephen Hawking at NASA's StarChild Learning Center 

At 21, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ALS, a motor-neuron disease sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease. Doctors gave him two years to live. Rather than succumbing to depression, as others would possibly have done, he began to set his sights on a few of the most elementary questions concerning the physical nature of the universe. Which came first...the chicken or the egg? Did the universe have a beginning... and if that is so, what took place before then? Where did the universe come from...and where is it going?

He moved to Cambridge upon his graduation from Oxford. Though he was slowly losing control of his muscle groups, he was nonetheless able to walk short distances and carry out easy tasks, although laboriously, like dressing and undressing. In 1965, he married Jane Wilde, a student of linguistics. Now, by his own account, he not only had "something to live for"; he additionally needed to find a job, which gave him an incentive to work significantly towards his doctorate.

Hawking's work on black holes helped prove the concept of a 'Big Bang' at the beginning of the Universe.

Developed in the 1940s, Big Bang theory was nonetheless not accepted by all cosmologists. Working with mathematician Roger Penrose, Hawking realised that black holes were like the Big Bang in reverse and that meant the maths he'd used to explain black holes additionally described the Big Bang. It was a key moment in showing the Big Bang actually took place.

Hawking realised black holes can be a method to discover physics' holy grail: a unified theory that blended general relativity with quantum mechanics.

These two powerful however incompatible theories describe the universe at the cosmic scale and subatomic scale respectively. Hawking's attempts to mix them produced a shocking outcome - that black holes should shine. This effect is referred to now as 'Hawking radiation'. The work cemented his reputation as a key philosopher of his generation. In 1974 he has been elected as a fellow of the Royal Society, aged 32, and considered one of the youngest people to reach this honour.

Hawking wanted to explain his work to the public, and to make some money to provide for his family as his wellbeing declined. A Brief History of Time was a best-seller for 4 years. Hawking believes its success was down to giving folks access to great philosophical questions, however, recognizes that human interest boosted gross sales. The book went on to sell over 9 million copies. It turned Hawking into a star and transformed his life.

In 1999, Stephen achieved what many regard as the ultimate accolade: his first guest appearance on The Simpsons.

By now he was an iconic figure, as well-known for his public writings and cameos as for his scientific papers. He had introduced a documentary series, 'Stephen Hawking's Universe', guest starred on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and lent his distinctive voice to Pink Floyd's album "The Division Bell". And he continued to publish popular science books.

Hawking taking a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft, 2007
Hawking taking a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft, 2007 

Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home in Cambridge at the age of 76 in the early hours of Wednesday 14th March 2018.

One of the world's most cherished scientists and a prolific writer, Hawking leaves the world with his pioneering work on black holes and relativity, in addition to quintessential science books like his bestseller, A Brief History of Time.


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