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In Memory of Stephen Hawking

On March 13 of this year, the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking passed away after an incredible 50+ year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). While this disability greatly affected him physically, it forced the cosmologist to think in ways no one had before.

The early life of this great man was filled with constant mental challenges imposed by his “eccentric” family, covering topics like sexuality, abortion, theology, and others that were not standard to discuss with children. His bright mind focused on math, science, and inventing things. He had the natural curiosity that drives people to do great things in life. He attended Oxford for his undergraduate studies. He found it to be extremely easy and was bored and lonely until he joined the university’s boat club. After receiving a first-class Bachelors of Art (Honors) degree, he moved onto Cambridge for his graduate studies.

When he began grad school, there was much debate between the two schools of thought about the way in which the universe was created: The Big Bang and the Steady State theory. Hawking preferred the Big Bang Theory’s way of explaining the universe. With Roger Penrose, he showed that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes, which indicated that it was necessary to unify general relativity with quantum theory. One repercussion of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but should emit ‘Hawking’ radiation, and eventually evaporate and vanish. After gaining his Ph.D. with his thesis titled ‘Properties of Expanding Universes’, he became, first, a research fellow then Fellow for Distinction in Science at Gonville & Caius College.

Hawking’s adult life was full of highs and lows. His disability is the most notable low and caused strains in his life both for himself and his family and friends. Diagnosed with motor neuron disease in 1963 and was expected to only live for two more years, Hawking made the most of it, living every day to the fullest.

Marriage, children, and divorce are some things that people tend not to think about when discussing famous scientists, but Stephen Hawking went through it all; some of them multiple times. Stephen also made many bets; he won many, but he was not infallible. He made a $100 wager with Peter Higgs that the Higgs boson would never be found. Ultimately, CERN announced that the Higgs boson was found and Hawking conceded that Higgs should get a Nobel prize for this work. Stephen Hawking did many public presentations and was awarded various medals, titles, and honorary degrees. Hawking gave a speech at the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony, was made a Commander of the British Empire and a Companion of Honour, had multiple movies detailing his life and work, held the title of Lucasian Professor, published various papers and children’s fictional books, and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hawking’s ashes will be interred in Westminster Abbey, one of the world’s most significant and breathtaking churches, near two other renowned scientists, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles R. Darwin.

With his death, came the release of his final paper, one that deals with the concept of the multiverse and a theory known as cosmic inflation. It is aptly titled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation?” The paper was being worked on by Stephen Hawking and Thomas Hertog and tried to propose that there are boundaries which these other universes may have, and that they are similar to ours.

The analogy that many use to get the idea across is “a bathtub full of soap bubbles (with the bubbles being different universes) of different sizes and shapes” and that the paper is suggesting “a mechanism by which the variety that is available is not as large as we thought”. Both authors concede that “a significant extension of holographic cosmology to more realistic cosmologies” will be needed to get a full theory.

While the paper proposes some mind-boggling ideas, it has not gone through the process of peer-review and has not been officially published. It is also to be noted that this, like many of his other papers, deals with a lot of theory, and at the moment it is untestable. However, it will surely be an advancement in cosmology that can change the way we perceive the universe, and Stephen Hawking will change the world of physics, yet again, after his death.

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