Science Library - free educational site

Stephen Hawking

b. 1942

Stephen Hawking, b. 1942, English physicist

Stephen Hawing is possibly the most-recognisable living scientist. His work in cosmology is considered the most advanced in explaining phenomena such as black holes, and unites general relativity with quantum mechanics.

  • Nationality
  • English

  • Subject
  • Physics, theoretical

  • Fields
  • Cosmology

  • Distinctions
  • Professor has received more than 20 prestigious awards, including:

    Eddington Medal, 1975

    Albert Einstein Award, 1978

    Dirac Medal, 1987

    Copley Medal, 2006

    Presidential Medal of Freedom, US

  • Posts
  • Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, Uni Cambridge

    Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Uni Cambridge, 1979 - 2009

  • Publications
  • A Brief History of Time, 1988, a record-breaking best-seller explaining cosmology to the lay person.

    The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, 1973, with George Ellis.

  • Laws
  • Four laws of black hole mechanics (formulated by Hawking and Jacob Bekenstein):

    1. The Zeroth Law
    2. A stationary black hole has a horizon with constant surface gravity: analogous to the zeroth law of thermodynamics (temperature is constant throughout a body in thermal equilibrium).

    3. The First Law
    4. Stationary black holes can have perturbations, whereby the change of energy is expressed as changes in area, angular momentum and electric charge: analogous to the first law of thermodynamics (energy conservation).

    5. The Second Law
    6. Assuming a weak energy condition, the horizon area is a non-decreasing function of time: analogous to the second law of thermodynamics (entropy is always greater than zero). NB: this law has been superceded by Hawking's discovery of black hole radiation, resulting in black holes losing mass. In its original formulation, the law would break the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

    7. The Third Law
    8. A black hole cannot have vanishing surface gravity: analogous to the third law of thermodynamics (entropy at absolute zero is constant).

  • Theories
  • Hawking radiation

    Union of general relativity and quantum mechanics

    Supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics

  • Equations
  • Bekenstein–Hawking formula

Stephen Hawking, b. 1942, English physicist
Stephen Hawking, b. 1942, English physicist

Tragically, Stephen Hawking was stricken in his early 20s by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neurone disease which has been gradually paralising him more and more. He has lost his ability to speak, and uses a speech-generating computer interface to communicate. Despite this debilitating handicap, Professor Hawking has never ceased to be engaged in his dual role of scientific researcher and public champion of science.

Hawking has expressed philosophical views and raised public awareness of technology issues. Among these are religion, nuclear war, genetic engineering, space exploration, and artificial intelligence.

It is often commented that Stephen Hawking has not yet received the Nobel Prize. This is most likely because his most important theory, Hawking Radiation, has not yet been proved. When it is, he will probably received the coveted award. The case is similar to Peter Higgs, whose Higgs' boson and Higgs' field were not confirmed till the LHC was able to bring in the high-energy collision data in 2012. When this occurred, Higgs was awarded the prize, after waiting nearly 60 years!

Choose a subject for more biographies