The theory of everything

Feb 2015

Stephen Hawking was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. The film 'The Theory of Everything' details his life and the onset of his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

We thought we would take this opportunity to have a look at Stephen Hawking's life, and some lesser known facts about him.

Stephen was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford (on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death), following his parents' relocation from London during the Second World War. Although generally considered bright (his nickname was Einstein), when he was nine, his grades ranked worst in his class, with some effort he brought them up to average.

He was always interested in how things worked however, and often took things apart. During his teens, Hawking and several friends constructed a computer out of recycled parts for solving rudimentary mathematical equations.

Hawking studied physics and cosmology at Oxford University, having wanted to study mathematics, a subject not offered at the university at the time. He aced his physics scholarship exam, getting an almost perfect score and securing funding for his studies, demonstrating what he could do if he applied himself.

Graduating with honours in natural science, he then went on to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to gain a PhD in cosmology. He later became a Research Fellow and a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973, Stephen came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in 1979, and held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics from 1979 until 2009.

In 1974, Hawking broke new ground in his study of black holes by demonstrating that matter, in the form of radiation, can escape the gravitational force of a collapsed star: Hawking radiation.

In 1988, Hawking published 'A Brief History of Time' which brought him international fame. The short, informative book became an accessible account of cosmology for the masses. It spent more than four years at the top of the Sunday Times Bestsellers list and has sold millions of copies across the world, having been translated into more than 40 languages.

Hawking is also a children's book author, having written and published 'George's Secret Key to the Universe' with his daughter Lucy. This book, as well as A Brief History of Time, features on the Kumon Recommended Reading List.

Stephen Hawking has become a celebrated celebrity. He has appeared in The Simpson's, The Big Bang Theory, and now with a film about his life, he has truly shown that the life of a mathematician can be more glamorous that you might think!