Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has died at 76, leaving in his wake incredible contributions to science and countless inspired souls.
The British scientist contributed to the sum of human knowledge about the universe’s greatest mysteries, from black holes to time travel and quantum mechanics. Hawking's life was depicted in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything,” and his own books, like “A Brief History Of Time,” popularized his subjects for a lay audience.
On Point guest host Meghna Chakrabarti was joined by three people who knew Hawking as a scientist: Harvey Reall, a professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University who worked with Hawking for more than 20 years, as well as Vijay Balasubramanian, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kitty Ferguson, the author of “Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind."
“His contribution went way beyond science,” Ferguson, told us: He conveyed the fun of science.
On being a student under Hawking
Reall: I was Stephen’s student between 1997 and 2000. And looking back on that time what I find most impressive is the amount of time he gave to students. He was very generous with his time, so towards the end of my Ph.D. we were spending maybe three hours a day chatting about physics, doing calculations together. It was a wonderful time together. We shared quite a lot of jokes. That was always one of the pleasures of working with Stephen. He had a great sense of humor and one of my my favorite memories of him is this his face and how it would break into an enormous grin when he was telling a joke often at my expense.
Hawking’s lesson for his biographer
Ferguson: Part of his impact on my own life has been to cause me, first of all to love science, but also to be less afraid of illness for my family and for myself.t's just a lesson that the sun doesn't shine everyday, and everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a person to accomplish so much and to enjoy their life.
On Hawking’s desire to go into space
Ferguson: I am saddened that he never got to go into space. He wanted so much to do that. And I kind of thought he would, you know?But he did really want to do that and he's been thinking about that and planning now and hoping for that and for a long time. And that didn't happen.
On Hawking’s sheer willpower
Balasubramanian: Even when he was sick with a cold or flu in addition to having ALS, he was at work every morning at 9:00 and he would work all day and then go home. And you know the typical graduate student, if you don't feel well you kind of go hide in bed until you get better. And it was just incredible willpower that he had. It was a real inspiration.
Ferguson: He did have a very strong will and that didn't go down well with everyone. He always treated me so well, so that anything I would know that was negative about him came by hearsay from other people. And you do hear a lot. But he was terribly nice to me and kind to me and helpful to me in everything I did.
Harvey Reall, professor of theoretical physics at Cambridge University who worked with Hawking for more than 20 years.
Vijay Balasubramanian, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kitty Ferguson, author of “Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind."
From The Reading List:
CNN: Stephen Hawking, Renowned Scientist, Dies At 76 — "Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British theoretical physicist who overcame a debilitating disease to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, has died, according to a family spokesman. He was 76."
Imagine taking a journey to discover the farthest reaches of the universe. Galaxies. Nova. Black holes. Matter both dark and unknown all zoom by. You are, in a way, taking trip through the mind of Stephen Hawking. The world famous cosmologist died today at the age of 76. He pursued the biggest questions about the universe even as his own body withered with ALS for more than 50 years. Hawking took science’s search for a grand unified theory in new directions, he brought millions closer to the awe and wonder about that infinite dome above our heads.
This hour, On Point: Remembering Stephen Hawking.
This program aired on March 14, 2018.