Physicist Stephen Hawking has died

World renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astronomer and mathematician has passed away at age 76.

Posted: Mar 15, 2018 8:19 AM
Updated: Mar 15, 2018 8:23 AM

One light may have gone out. But the lights Stephen Hawking lit burn on.

Professor Hawking, perhaps the world's most recognizable face of science, has died. Hawking's birth and death occurred on auspicious dates. March 14, the day he died, was the 139th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth, and he was born on January 8,1942, the 300th anniversary of the death of renowned astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes the patient. When he received his diagnosis in 1963, doctors believed he had only two years to live. Defying all odds, he outlived that prediction by more than 50 years. And he put those 50 years to good use.

Hawking did not allow the paralysis of his body to cripple his nimble brain. Confined to a wheelchair, he spent his time in thought. While it would have been entirely understandable for him to sink into deep depression, instead he turned his mind to one of the thorniest problems of modern physics.

In 1915, Einstein invented the theory of general relativity, which describes the nature of gravity under extreme conditions. It predicts black holes -- places where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. A few years later, a coterie of physicists invented quantum mechanics, a theoretical framework that explained the world of atoms and even smaller objects.

When researchers tried to combine these two subjects to understand the theory of gravity in the microcosm, they failed entirely. And that has been the state of affairs for the last century. Quantum gravity is still an unsolved problem.

Hawking's doctoral work showed Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that the universe began in a singularity, which meant the energy and matter of the entire universe was concentrated in a single point. But he knew this result neglected the effects of quantum mechanics, which meant it was not the final word on the subject.

But it did point to the fact that studying black holes would be a fruitful way to learn about the birth of the universe. So, he spent the remainder of his scientific career investigating these cosmic conundrums.

His most influential work explored the nature of entropy in the vicinity of black holes. Entropy is a measure of disorder and there is a principle of physics that says that entropy (e.g. disorder) must increase. Yet matter falling into a black hole seemed to decrease disorder. Following a chain of thought proposed by a younger physics student by the name of Jacob Bekenstein, Hawking determined a relationship between the surface area of the outside of a black hole and the disorder.

Combining these insights led him to understand that black holes actually had a temperature. Since anything with a temperature radiates energy, this means that black holes radiate energy. This was impossible using just Einstein's equations, but when Hawking included the principles of quantum mechanics, he showed that black holes could indeed radiate energy. This energy is now called Hawking radiation. While it has not been experimentally confirmed, it is generally conceded to be true by working physicists.

Hawking's scientific work resulted in him being awarded the Lucasian Chair at the University of Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. Hawking's scientific accomplishments are exemplary.

However, it is his contribution to society that made his greatest impact. Hawking was the most recognizable scientific face on the planet. His book "A Brief History of Time," written for nonscientists, has sold more than 10 million copies since its publication in 1988. He has appeared on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "The Simpsons," and "The Big Bang Theory." He has published many other books with great success. It's been said that Hawking could publish his grocery list and it would be avidly read by his many fans.

If I might indulge in a personal anecdote: Hawking was one of many who inspired me to write my own books on science for the public (albeit with fewer copies sold). On one of his visits to Fermilab, we were able to speak very briefly. He had published "A Brief History of Time" and I congratulated him on its success and expressed an interest in writing myself. He encouraged me to try and the result was that several years later I published my first book. Several books later, I am still grateful for that encouragement.

Stephen Hawking influenced a generation of science enthusiasts for over three decades. Through his cordial relationship with the media, he motivated and inspired people to study the great questions and to think about the unsolved mysteries that stand before us. It is up to those of us who have followed in his footsteps to carry the torch and share his infectious enthusiasm for learning about the world around us.

Terre Haute
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 51°
Robinson
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 45°
Indianapolis
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 43°
Rockville
Overcast
42° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 38°
Casey
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 42°
Brazil
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 51°
Marshall
Overcast
51° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 51°
Cloudy night with scattered sprinkles
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Bike competition this weekend

Image

Bikes for Tykes Assembly Day

Image

Sunday Morning Forecast Update

Image

Vigo County Mutual Aid Coat Drive

Image

LVB Annual Food Drive

Image

Volunteers distribute free food

Image

Fountain Central vs South Put

Image

RP Parke Heritage Sectional

Image

Brown County XC Semi State

Image

VIN LIN VBALL REGIONALS

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 374901

Reported Deaths: 9751
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1738175409
DuPage22546607
Lake20485509
Will18179427
Kane16453347
Winnebago10052180
St. Clair7878218
Madison7084154
McHenry6225120
Champaign604829
Unassigned4787270
Peoria448570
McLean410334
Rock Island396090
Sangamon389663
Kankakee336680
Macon296951
Kendall263030
Tazewell259456
LaSalle237863
DeKalb231742
Coles189639
Williamson185759
Adams183819
Boone183025
Clinton173326
Vermilion169710
Jackson152426
Whiteside138725
Knox127216
Randolph124915
Ogle11857
Effingham11594
Marion99119
Grundy9607
Franklin9529
Stephenson9497
Monroe90329
Bureau89517
Jefferson89348
Morgan89024
Henry8427
Christian81129
Macoupin78410
Union78425
McDonough73920
Lee7051
Fayette67422
Douglas6559
Shelby65312
Crawford6446
Livingston62610
Montgomery60916
Woodford59614
Logan5894
Saline5559
Fulton4981
Warren4938
Iroquois48919
Bond4889
Jo Daviess4867
Wayne48112
Jersey47021
Cass46011
Perry43016
Moultrie4084
Carroll40111
Johnson3460
Richland33316
Lawrence3328
Pike3326
Hancock3094
Clark30717
Clay30713
Washington3012
Mason3001
Greene28715
Cumberland2816
White2644
Jasper26110
De Witt2556
Mercer2526
Piatt2440
Pulaski2351
Wabash2205
Ford19112
Menard1821
Massac1542
Edgar15310
Marshall1503
Henderson1280
Alexander1201
Hamilton1172
Brown1070
Edwards1070
Gallatin1062
Scott1020
Schuyler911
Putnam900
Stark853
Calhoun670
Hardin530
Pope421
Out of IL80

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 160454

Reported Deaths: 4118
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion25691791
Lake14023358
St. Joseph9399165
Elkhart9026137
Allen8424230
Hamilton6293114
Vanderburgh601161
Tippecanoe383615
Hendricks3337133
Porter332350
Monroe330338
Johnson3207129
Delaware303474
Clark300763
Vigo268740
Madison244996
LaPorte231760
Cass226922
Warrick199565
Kosciusko193727
Floyd183968
Howard167066
Bartholomew145358
Dubois142726
Marshall142726
Wayne135331
Grant129739
Henry129730
Boone126950
Hancock122344
Noble119135
Jackson116417
Dearborn100028
Morgan97440
Lawrence94037
Gibson91512
Daviess90234
Clinton88916
Shelby87231
LaGrange82115
Knox79510
Harrison78324
Putnam75616
Posey7556
DeKalb74511
Fayette73218
Jasper6435
Miami6425
Steuben6408
Montgomery60422
White59915
Greene55838
Scott53413
Decatur51739
Adams5107
Whitley4696
Ripley4668
Clay4567
Sullivan45214
Wells44211
Starke4328
Wabash4329
Huntington4215
Orange41725
Spencer4046
Washington3843
Franklin37925
Jennings37313
Randolph37210
Fulton3714
Jefferson3455
Pike34018
Perry33314
Carroll33213
Jay3256
Fountain3193
Tipton28023
Vermillion2601
Parke2464
Blackford2313
Newton23011
Rush2254
Owen2101
Martin2010
Crawford1601
Pulaski1602
Brown1463
Ohio1317
Union1120
Benton1090
Switzerland960
Warren891
Unassigned0236