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  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: June 2014

23 - Stephen W. Hawking

Summary

British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking is world-renowned for his discoveries on the nature of space and time, and as the author of A Brief History of Time, a science book with sales that broke many publishing records. Hawking achievement's are all the greater in view of his crippling illness which has left him without speech and only limited movement in his hands.

Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on 8 January 1942, precisely 300 years after the death of Galileo. He says of this remarkable coincidence, ‘I estimate that about two hundred thousand other babies were also born that day, and I don't know whether any of them became interested in cosmology’. He went to local schools, was slow at learning to read, and never stood out as a scholar. His father, a doctor, wanted Stephen to study medicine at university, and as a result the young Hawking studied very little mathematics in high school. However, he gained a place to study physics at Oxford University, where he was admitted to University College in 1959.

Stephen Hawking describes the Oxford of those days as being, ‘Very anti work – you were supposed either to be brilliant without effort or accept your limitations and get a poor classification in the final examinations’. Hawking claims to have done no more than 1000 hours of studying in his entire three years at Oxford, and he attributes this lack of effort to an attitude of complete boredom and a feeling that nothing was worth the effort.