On 14th March 2018, the death of Stephen Hawking was announced, possibly the most famous scientist since Albert Einstein. Whether it is for his ground-breaking contribution to theoretical physics and cosmology, the publication of his popular science book A Brief History of Time, or his guest star appearances on The Simpsons, Hawking became a household name not only for his contributions to science, but also as a spokesperson and role model for disabled people.
It was while studying for a doctorate that Hawking was told he had only two years to live. Initially depressed and understandably disenchanted with his studies, when it became evident that his ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) was developing slower than expected, his attitude became optimistic and determined: he resolved to jampack all his lifelong ambitions into the unknown and finite time he had on this Earth. Fortunately for him, this unknown and finite time would last until his death at 76 last week. Fortunately for science, his attitude never changed, and allowed him to make mind-bending contributions to theoretical physics, particularly our understanding of black holes.
Despite his growing reputation in the academic world, Hawking felt compelled to write a popular science book that would pay the bills and keep a roof over his family’s head. A Brief History of Time went on to sell 20 million in copies in 20 years and has been translated into 35 languages, throwing Hawking into the world of fame. Hawking would utilise his fame throughout his life by raising awareness of ALS, recently criticising the government’s careless attempts to privatise the NHS, which had proved a literal lifesaver throughout his adult life.
Over the years, Hawking gradually lost the ability to walk and speak unaided, and could only operate the computer on his wheelchair through the movement of his cheek. Yet he refused to let his disability hold him back, and his significant contributions to science have left an enduring legacy in the field of theoretical physics. His ashes are to be interred in Westminster Abbey next to Isaac Newton. There can be no greater honour for a scientist.