Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) was 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 grew up in the town of St. Albans about twenty miles outside London. 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, where he went to study for a PhD, that his health problems became more obvious*.
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*.
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 had two more children together but divorced in 1990.
Studying for his PhD in cosmology*, 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 look after himself. By the 1980s, Hawking needed someone to look after him full-time*. He also lost the ability to speak and was given a voice box. This 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.’ He later said, ‘Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.’
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.
Life and death
Despite difficulties in his private life and bad health, Hawking’s career went from strength to strength*. He 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 believed that it would be very dangerous for humans to build artificial lifeforms and nuclear weapons that could ‘think’ for themselves. Hawking also spoke on the importance of space travel and the need for humans to leave planet earth and explore the stars.
He said that he owed his life to the British National Health Service and he was a strong believer in free health care for everyone. In the last months of his life he started a fight to save the NHS as he was worried that the United Kingdom government were selling parts of the National Health Service to private companies.
Stephen Hawking died on the morning of Wednesday 14th March 2018 surrounded by his family. He leaves behind three children and three grandchildren. His advice to the world, ‘Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet…. Be curious.’
Stephen Hawking: vocabulary check
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
Cosmology = an area of astrophysics. Cosmology is the study of the beginning and evolution (progress) of the universe.
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
Deteriorated = get worse and worse
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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