Death of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking

Nailed in an armchair and speaking via a computer, Stephen Hawking, who died Wednesday at 76, has dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the universe and popularizing astrophysics, to the point of becoming a star.

“I’m sure my disability has something to do with my celebrity. People are fascinated by the contrast between my very limited physical abilities and the extremely wide nature of the universe I study, “said the contemporary scientist, certainly the most famous in the world.

Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford on January 8, 1942, 300 years to the day after Galileo’s death.

His father, a biologist, wants him to follow his steps by studying medicine in Oxford. But young Stephen has already taken a passion for mathematics. This subject is not taught in the prestigious university, he opts for physics.

After three years, he left for Cambridge to pursue research in astronomy.

Shortly after his 21 th birthday, he learns that he suffers from a crippling degenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Doctors give him only two years to live. Not even knowing if he will be able to complete his doctoral thesis, he plunges into a deep depression, from which he comes out only thanks to his meeting with a linguistic student, Jane Wilde, whom he married in 1965.

The couple, who divorced 30 years later, will have three children. Stephen Hawking will marry Elaine Mason for the second time, after eleven years in 2006.

His body declines inexorably. In 1974, he was unable to feed himself or get out of bed on his own. In 1985, he definitively lost the use of speech after undergoing tracheotomy following pneumonia.

“Completely understand the universe”

But his mind is intact. And his simple goal: “to completely understand the universe, why he is as he is and why he exists”.

In the 70s, he developed the idea that black holes do not just absorb any matter and light passing close to them, but also emit radiation, the “Hawking radiation”.

In doing so, he is the first to reach out to the Grail of physicists: to begin to reconcile the two great theories that explain the functioning of the universe and are apparently incompatible, namely the general relativity of Einstein for the infinite great and quantum mechanics for the infinitely small.

In the opinion of the scientists, this theory would have earned Stephen Hawking the Nobel Prize if it could have been experimentally demonstrated.

At 32, he became the youngest member of the Royal Society, the British equivalent of the Academy of Sciences.

In 1980, he was awarded the Lucasian Chair in Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post he held before him by Isaac Newton. He will leave him in 2009, struck by the age limit.

While deepening his work on the origins of the Universe, the theorist published in 1988 A Brief History of Time , in order to explain to the general public the great principles of cosmology, from Big Bang to string theory.

Never a book of popular science will be so successful. Since its publication, more than nine million copies have been sold.

Stephen Hawking becomes the popular incarnation of the scientist, multiplying the interventions to promote the research and, sometimes, to worry about its possible excesses.

Formidable communicator, able to perform a weightless flight despite his disability, he lends himself to the game with a certain pleasure and a great sense of humor.

His Facebook page that he feeds himself with messages signed “SH” has more than 4 million “friends”.

He plays his own role in series like Star Trek, The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons, signs children’s books with his daughter Lucy, “sings” with his synthetic voice alongside U2, Pink Floyd and even Monthy Python.

A year ago, he appeared at a hologram conference in Hong Kong. In front of hundreds of people, he had argued that responses to multiple environmental crises “will come from science and technology”.

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Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane are accompanied by actress Felicity Jones and actor Eddie Redmayne at the British premiere of The Theory of Everything in London in December 2014.
Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane are accompanied by actress Felicity Jones and actor Eddie Redmayne at the British premiere of The Theory of Everything in London in December 2014.
AFP, JUSTIN TALLIS
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STEPHEN HAWKING IN 10 DATES

– January 8, 1942: birth at Oxford.

– 1962: Holder of a physics degree from the University of Oxford, he began studying astronomy at Cambridge and published in 1966 his thesis on “the properties of expanding universes”.

– 1964: he learns that he suffers from a paralyzing degenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Charcot’s disease

– 1965: marries Jane Wilde, whom he divorced in 1995 to marry Elaine Mason

– 1974: he becomes the youngest member of the Royal Society, the prestigious British Academy of Sciences

– 1979: appointed professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a chair that he will occupy for 30 years

– 1985: Stephen Hawking permanently loses the use of speech after undergoing a tracheotomy following pneumonia. It will now communicate via a computer and a speech synthesizer

– 1988: publishes “a brief history of time”, a book of popular science in which he explains the greatest principles of cosmology. The book will sell for several million copies.

– 2007: he flies in weightlessness aboard a specially designed aircraft

– 2014: release of the biography film “A wonderful history of time” directed by James Marsh, which is worth the oscar of the best actor to Eddie Redmayne.

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