Hawking as himself on Star Trek TNG

Stephen William Hawking, CH, CBE, FRS (born January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England) is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. Hawking is Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge (a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton), and a fellow of Gonville and Caius College. The fact that he holds this post while being almost completely incapacitated with severe amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has made him a worldwide celebrity.


Hawking was born in Oxford, England to Frank and Isobel Hawking as their first child on January 8, 1942 - coincidentally, the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death. He was educated at St Albans School, Hertfordshire and University College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class honours degree in Natural Science. He moved to Cambridge University to complete his PhD in cosmology at Trinity Hall.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974, appointed CBE in 1982 and became a Companion of Honour in 1989. Hawking is a respected physicist, with many works recognised by both the International Association of Natural Physics and the American Physics-Astronomy Guild of Amherst.

Hawking's principal fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. In 1971, he provided mathematical support for the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe; if the general theory of relativity was correct the universe must have a singularity, or starting point, in space-time. Hawking also suggested that following the Big Bang, primordial or mini black holes were formed. He showed that the surface area of a black hole can increase but never decrease, that there is a limit on the radiation emitted when black holes collide, and that a single black hole cannot break apart into two separate black holes. In 1974, he calculated that black holes thermally create and emit subatomic particles until they exhaust their energy and explode. Known as Hawking radiation, it linked gravity, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics mathematically for the first time. In 1981, Hawking proposed that although the universe has no boundary, it is finite in space-time, and in 1983 he proved this mathematically.

Despite being severely disabled by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of Motor Neurone Disease, he is highly active in physics, writing, and public life. He first began to show symptoms of the disorder while enrolled in Cambridge. He was diagnosed at the age of 21, shortly before his first marriage. At the time, doctors said he would not live more than about two or three years longer. He battled the odds and has survived much longer, although he has become increasingly disabled by the gradual progress of the disease. He has used an electronic voice synthesizer to communicate since he had a tracheostomy in 1985 following a severe bout of pneumonia. He gradually lost the use of his arms, legs, and voice and is now almost completely paralysed. The computer system attached to his wheelchair is operated by Hawking manually through a single switch, and software called "Equalizer" and "EZKeys" which lets him talk, create speeches, research papers and books, browse the Internet, write e-mail, and do everything else that one can use a computer for. It also allows control over doors, lights, and lifts in his home and at the office via a radio transmitter system.

There is every chance that he would never have made the discoveries he has were it not for the support of his family. Although he divorced Jane in 1990 (they had 3 children — named Tim, Lucy and Robert — and now have a grandchild), Hawking is still something of a family man. Despite his disease, he describes himself as "lucky" — not just because its slow progress allowed him time to make influential discoveries but because it afforded him time to have, in his own words, "a very attractive family". When Jane was asked why she decided to marry a man with a 3-year life expectancy, she responded: "These were the days of atomic gloom and doom, so we all had rather a short life expectancy". He married his second wife, Elaine Mason, in 1995.

His first book, A Brief History of Time, was published on April 1, 1988, and was a surprise best-seller. It was followed by The Universe in a Nutshell (2001). Both books have remained highly popular all over the world. A collection of essays, Black Holes and Baby Universes (1993) was also popular.

Hawking is famous for his oft-made statement, "When I hear of Schrödinger's cat, I reach for my gun." This was a deliberately ironic paraphrase of the phrase "When I hear the word 'culture', I reach for my Browning", from a play by German playwright and Nazi Poet Laureate, Hanns Johst.

As well as his serious academic side and humour, Hawking is an active supporter of various causes. He appeared on a political broadcast for the United Kingdom's Labour Party, and actively supports the children's charity SOS Children's Villages. He also reportedly agreed to take part in a protest against the war in Iraq.

Stephen William Hawking,

Losing an old bet

Hawking was in the news in July 2004 for presenting a new theory about black holes which goes against his own long-held belief about their behaviour, thus losing a bet he and Kip Thorne made with John Preskill, a particle physicist. Classically, it can be shown that information crossing the event horizon of a black hole is lost to our universe, and that as a consequence all black holes are identical, beyond their mass, electrical charge and angular velocity (the "no hair theorem"). The problem with this theorem is that it implies the black hole will emit the same radiation regardless of what goes into the black hole, and as a consequence that if a pure quantum state is thrown into a black hole, an "ordinary" mixed state will be returned. This runs counter to the rules of quantum mechanics and is known as the black hole information paradox.

Hawking had earlier speculated that the singularity at the centre of a black hole could form a bridge to a "baby universe" into which the lost information could pass; such theories have been very popular in science fiction. But according to Hawking's new idea, presented at the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation, on 21 July 2004 in Dublin, Ireland, black holes eventually transmit, in a garbled form, information about all matter they swallow.

The Euclidean path integral over all topologically trivial metrics can be done by time slicing and so is unitary when analytically continued to the Lorentzian. On the other hand, the path integral over all topologically non-trivial metrics is asymptotically independent of the initial state. Thus the total path integral is unitary and information is not lost in the formation and evaporation of black holes. The way the information gets out seems to be that a true event horizon never forms, just an apparent horizon.

--GR Conference website summary of Hawking's talk.

Having concluded that information is conserved, Hawking conceded his bet in Preskill's favour, awarding him Total Baseball, The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, an encyclopaedia from which information is easily retrieved. However, Thorne remains unconvinced of Hawking's proof and declined to contribute to the award.


  • 1975 Eddington Medal
  • 1985 Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
  • 1988 Wolf Prize in Physics
  • 1999 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society



  • The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with George Ellis
  • The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind, (with Abner Shimony, Nancy Cartwright, and Roger Penrose), Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-521-56330-5 (hardback), ISBN 0-521-65538-2 (paperback), Canto edition: ISBN 0-521-78572-3

...and many more


  • A Brief History of Time, (Bantam Press 1988)
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, (Bantam Books 1993)
  • The Universe in a Nutshell, (Bantam Press 2001)
  • On The Shoulders of Giants. The Great Works of Physics and Astronomy, (Running Press 2002)

...and many more

N.B. On Hawking's website, he denounces the unauthorized publication of The Theory of Everything and asks consumers to boycott this book.

NASA StarChild image of Stephen Hawking.

Popular culture

See also

  • Roger Penrose
  • Kip S. Thorne
  • gravitational singularity
  • Pennying



  • Hawking, S. W. & Israel, W. (1979) General relativity: an Einstein centenary survey, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22285-0. A much cited centennial survey.
  • Misner, Charles; Thorne, Kip S. & Wheeler, John Archibald (1973) Gravitation, San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-0344-0; see Box 34.3 for a short biography. (This famous book is the first modern textbook on general relativity, and shows that even in the early seventies, Hawking was already regarded as an unusually intriguing personality by his colleagues.)
  • Hawking, S. W. & Ellis, G. F. R. (1973) The Large Scale Structure of Space-time, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-09906-4. A highly influential monograph in the field.

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/"
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Biographies of Physicists and Astronomers