Perspective on the life of a towering figure of 20th- and 21st-century science who contributed significantly to the fields of physics, astronomy and many others
Thirty years ago, mathematical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking published what is arguably the most popular cosmology book for the masses. A Brief History of Time told the universe’s story, made significantly more complete by seminal theoretical research Hawking had conducted over the preceding decade.
Over his entire profound career, Hawking reshaped scientific thinking of the universe, especially black holes and their illusive properties. His discoveries, such as Hawking radiation (see below), unified concepts from multiple fields including quantum mechanics, cosmology, thermodynamics and informatics.
“The intellectual legacy Hawking leaves with us is eclipsed only by the imagination and wonder he inspired throughout his life,” said Michael Moloney, CEO of the American Institute of Physics. “Even his earliest theoretical frameworks remain at the core of discoveries in cosmology, mathematics and physics being made today. Though we have lost a truly remarkable mind, and he will be missed greatly, Hawking’s genius will remain with us through the science he revealed and the public he inspired.”
Hawking was born in Oxford, England, in 1942. As an undergraduate, he attended University College Oxford where he earned a degree in natural science before pursuing graduate studies in cosmology at Trinity College Cambridge. Hawking’s doctoral thesis set into motion his work on black holes and general relativity, and he went on to earn countless awards and prizes including the 1976 Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics, which is administered jointly by AIP and the American Physical Society.
In 1979, Hawking was appointed the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge -- Sir Isaac Newton’s former position. In addition to holding esteemed research and teaching positions at the University of Cambridge, the Royal Society and the California Institute of Technology, Hawking strived to communicate science to the general public. He published more than a dozen books including A Brief History of Time, which set bestselling records, and helped Hawking win AIP's 1998 Gemant Award for his exceptional leadership in communicating science to the public.
What is Hawking Radiation?
By Yuen Yiu
In 1968, British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking predicted that when a particle-antiparticle pair is created on the edge of a black hole's event horizon, the pair can be pried apart by gravity -- one particle falling into the black hole and the other escaping. The escape of one of the particles then contributes to an infinitesimally small, and so far purely theoretical, radiation known as Hawking radiation.
Hawking radiation, if proven, will play a crucial role in determining the lifetime of black holes. However, even if the radiation is real, it will still be far too faint for us to detect it. There have been a few analogous models that can successfully reproduce the phenomenon in a laboratory setting, but they use light waves or sound waves instead of gravitational waves of black holes. There is hope that the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, with a higher energy output, can create a super tiny black hole that lasts but a split second and offer a more definitive answer on Hawking radiation. But for now, no direct observation for Hawking radiation has been possible, leading some to say that the "jury is still out."
"This is a pity, because if they had, I would have got a Nobel prize," said Hawking during a 2008 lecture.
NOTE: This story was originally published as part of an Inside Science article in 2017. See https://www.insidescience.org/news/study-about-nothing.
As a tribute, we have gathered some AIP resources featuring Stephen Hawking:
Physics Today Resources
A 1988 review of the book, A Brief History of Time
A 2014 story about the observation of an analogue of Hawking Radiation in a fluid system
Tributes from Hawking colleagues
AIP Publishing Resources
The Measure of the Universe
A debate on open inflation
A new topology for curved space–time which incorporates the causal, differential, and conformal structures
Correspondent in the Richard Feynman papers, 1933-1988 at CalTech
Winning essay available in the Gravity Research Foundation essays and abstracts, 1949-2017
Other collections where Stephen Hawking is a subject
Catalog Search by Author
Book Catalog Search by Keyword
Emilio Segrè Visual Archives Resources
Complete photo archive
PhD Thesis (from the University of Cambridge)
WorldCat Archival Materials by Stephen Hawking
American Institute of Physics