Learn English: Famous British – Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking is a British physicist*. He was born in Oxford, England on the 8th January 1942, 300 years after the death of Italian astronomer* and engineer* Galileo Galilei. Stephen spent his childhood living 20 miles outside of London in the town of St. Albans. He went to a local* school and afterwards to University College, Oxford. Both of Stephen’s parents had studied at Oxford University. He wanted to study Mathematics but that was not possible so he chose to study physics instead. He was an active young man who enjoyed* dancing and rowing.

After he finished his degree, Hawking went to Trinity Hall at Cambridge University to study cosmology*. Whilst he was at Oxford university, Hawking began to have some problems with his health. Sometimes he would fall over or have trouble with his speech. However, it was at Cambridge that his health problems became more obvious* and he sought medical advice.


After lots of tests Doctors diagnosed* Hawking with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (sometimes known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). It is a fatal* disease in which the nerves in the body that control the muscles stop working. Those with the disease slowly lose control of their body. In 1963, doctors told Hawking that he had only two and a half years to live. Although the doctors were wrong in their prediction* the disease debilitated* Hawking and by the end of the 1960’s he became wheelchair bound*.

He says that he owes his life to the British National Health Service and he is a strong believer in free health care for everyone.

Hawking had just fallen in love and he realised that there were many things he wanted to do in his life. He began to take his studies more seriously and started working hard. He married his girlfriend Jane Wilde, another student at Cambridge, and in 1965 their first child was born. They went on to have two more children together but divorced in 1990.

Black Holes

Studying for his PhD, Hawking developed an interest in black holes*. He spent much time studying black holes and he discovered that they release radiation.  This radiation is now called ‘Hawking radiation’(until then scientists believed that nothing could escape the gravitational* pull of a black hole). Soon after, Hawking became famous and he began to visit and teach in universities around the world.


However, as Hawking’s career improved, his physical health deteriorated. He was no longer able to care for himself. By the 1980s Hawking needed someone to care for him full-time*. He also lost the ability to speak and was given a voice box. The helped him to communicate with his colleagues and family. He continued to work and he became a bestselling author with his book ‘A Brief History of Time.’


In 1990 Hawking and his wife divorced and after a few years Hawking married his nurse. This marriage did not last, however, and they were divorced in 2006. Despite difficulties in his private life and bad health, Hawking’s career has gone from strength to strength*. He has even appeared on several television shows such as The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek: The Next Generation.


Hawking spoke recently* about artificial intelligence*. He believes that it would be very dangerous for humans to build artificial lifeforms. He also speaks on the importance of space travel and the need for humans to leave planet earth and explore the stars.


Physicist = someone who studies physics (a branch of science that looks at how the universe is made, matter and energy including electricity and light)

Astronomer = someone who studies the universe outside of earth including the stars and planets.

Engineer = someone who designs and builds engines, roads, bridges, machines etc.

Local = nearby

Enjoyed = liked

Cosmology = the study of the origins (beginning) and development of the universe.

Obvious = easy to understand or see

Diagnosed = to say what a disease/illness is from the symptoms

Fatal = if something is ‘fatal’ it will kill someone

Prediction = when someone says something they think is going to happen

Wheelchair bound = someone who needs to be in a wheelchair to move around

Black holes = when a huge star has died and become so small that everything is pulled in including light

Gravitational = from gravity, the force that pulls things to earth and holds the planets around the sun

Full-time care = all day and all night

Strength to strength = better and better

Recently = a short time ago

Artificial intelligence = computers that have been created to behave and think like humans






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