Stephen Hawking

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Stephen Hawking at NASA
Hawking's signature, 1966

Stephen William Hawking, CH , CBE , FRS (born January 8, 1942 in Oxford , England - † March 14, 2018 in Cambridge , England) was a British theoretical physicist and astrophysicist . From 1979 to 2009 he held the prestigious Lucasian Chair in Mathematics at Cambridge University . Stephen Hawking did significant work on cosmology , general relativity, and black holes .

In 1963 Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease of the motor nervous system . Doctors prophesied that he would only live a few years. However, it was probably a chronically juvenile ALS, which was characterized by an extremely long course of the disease. Since 1968 he was dependent on a wheelchair . As part of the underlying disease ( consecutive progressive bulbar paralysis ) and the treatment of severe pneumonia , he lost the ability to speak in 1985. Since then he has been using a voice computer for verbal communication .

Through his popular science books on modern physics and extensive media coverage, he also became known to a wide audience outside of the specialist world.

Life and career

Family background

Stephen Hawking was the son of tropical medicine doctor Frank Hawking and economist Isobel Hawking (née Walker). His father came from a family of big farmers in Yorkshire , but Stephen Hawking's great-grandfather had lost most of his fortune in an agricultural crisis in the early 20th century. Robert Hawking, Frank's father, and his wife could only finance Frank Hawking's medical studies with the help of the income from a small school in Boroughbridge and he himself received some scholarships and prizes with which he financed himself and could also give some money back to his parents. In 1937 he was on a research trip to Africa in the Congo . At the beginning of World War II , he returned to England to join the military. His future wife Isobel was the daughter of a general practitioner in Glasgow and one of eight children in the family. Despite the family's financial difficulties, she was allowed to study and after completing her studies initially worked as a finance inspector and later as a secretary. Before their son was born, Frank and Isobel temporarily moved from the London metropolitan area ( Highgate district ) to Oxford to avoid the threat of the German bombing of the capital during World War II. A year and a half after Stephen, his sister Mary was born; the second sister Phillippa was born when he was five years old. Stephen Hawking grew up in north London. In 1950 the family moved again, this time to St Albans north of London.

Education and career

From 1953 Hawking attended the St Albans School. The father's wish was that he should study medicine in order to follow in his footsteps as a doctor. Hawking therefore concentrated on advanced courses at his father's insistence on chemistry and only took mathematics as a minor. Before he graduated from school he took part in an entrance exam for Oxford University , which he passed with distinction and which surprisingly earned him a scholarship .

Stephen Hawking received his bachelor's degree from Oxford University in 1962. A little later he moved to Trinity Hall at Cambridge University, where he began his doctorate on theoretical astronomy and cosmology and received his PhD in 1966 with Dennis Sciama ( Ph.D. ) with the dissertation Properties of expanding universes. Since he lacked the grade required for admission to Cambridge, he took an oral exam, which he passed with top marks. After completing his doctorate, he became a Research Fellow and later Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. Initially he was in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) in Cambridge, from 1968 in the Institute for Astronomy and from 1973 back at the DAMTP. In 1974 he was a Sherman Fairchild Scholar at Caltech , where he worked with Kip Thorne . In 1975 he became a Reader in Cambridge and in 1977 Professor of Gravitational Physics. From 1979 to 2009 he was a Lucasian Professor. From 2009 he was Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research at DAMTP.

Scientific work

He became famous in the 1960s for proving the necessity of the existence of singularities in general relativity under very general conditions (together with Roger Penrose , see Singularities Theorem ). For this work he received the prestigious Adams Prize from the University of Cambridge in 1966 . In 1971 he set up the second law of black body thermodynamics: The surface of black holes cannot decrease when black holes merge, a particle falls into a black hole and other processes, which suggests an analogue to entropy in thermodynamics (see Bekenstein-Hawking- Entropy ). In 1974 he developed the concept of " Hawking radiation ", according to which black holes in quantum field theory (depending on the mass of the black hole more or less quickly) annihilate. At that time he tried to understand quantum mechanically the concept of the entropy of black holes introduced by Jacob Bekenstein in 1973 and, to his own surprise, found that radiation could be assigned to black holes - one of his most important discoveries.

In the 1980s, Hawking and James Hartle developed an approach to quantum gravity and its cosmology using a Euclidean path integral formulation . In the mathematical path integral formulation, originally developed by Richard Feynman for quantum field theory , all possible configurations of space-times ("paths") are summed up, which is achieved by integrals over the metric tensor fields , which determine the space-times according to the general theory of relativity , is pictured. In order to be able to treat the integrals mathematically, a trick that is also common in quantum field theory is used, the Wick rotation : The path integral is continued with imaginary values ​​of time, so that the metrics that are summed up have a signature like the metric of a Euclidean Space instead of the sign of the Minkowski space as in general relativity. Hartle and Hawking suggested that only closed space-times without three-dimensional borders should be taken into account in the path integrals (compact Euclidean metrics), since these would make the dominant contributions. They called this their no boundary proposal (“without limits” or “without edge”) and saw in it a natural formulation for problems of quantum cosmology (“The boundary condition of the universe is that it has no edge”). In addition to Hawking and Hartle's suggestion, other possibilities have also been discussed, in particular Alexander Vilenkin's (1982) tunnel solution , the creation of a universe out of nothing. Hawking originally favored closed universes based on his theory, but in the 1990s he and Neil Turok showed that open inflationary universes are also possible as a solution in the no boundary proposal . The Euclidean path integral approach to quantum cosmology is controversial because of the transition from Minkowski metrics, as they are actually realized in nature, to Euclidean metrics outside the Hawking school, which consistently adhered to them.

At the 17th General Relativity Conference in Dublin 2004, Hawking announced that he had solved the problem of information loss in black holes , which, however, met with criticism. The problem is as follows: Black holes “swallow” matter and thus information. However, according to the classical description of the general theory of relativity, they themselves are only defined by a few parameters and, as Hawking had shown, are sources of thermal radiation in quantum theory. The only “information” is their temperature and entropy, which are proportional to their surface area. Information is thus destroyed. In quantum mechanics, this corresponds to a “non-unitary” time evolution that does not preserve the probabilities, which runs counter to the principles of quantum mechanics. The question then is whether there isn't a way out that gets the information. John Preskill had made a bet with Hawking in 1997 (which Kip Thorne held alongside Hawking ) that there was such a way out in quantum gravity, but Hawking had held against it. In his speech at the congress, Hawking changed his point of view and said that information would be retained, which he believed to have proven with a path integral formulation of quantum gravity in nontrivial topologies.

The problem plays an important role in quantum gravity and has been the subject of controversial debate there since Hawking formulated the problem in 1975. Hawking's opponents were, for example, Leonard Susskind and Gerardus' t Hooft , who, unlike Hawking, advocated the validity of quantum mechanics in the area of ​​black holes. Susskind even published a book about it ( The Black Hole War: My battle with Stephen Hawking to make the world safe for quantum mechanics, 2008). There is still no consensus on how to solve the problem. The well-known gravitation theorist Kip Thorne, for example, unlike Hawking, refused to acknowledge the loss of the bet.

Hawking's last scientific paper (with Andrew Strominger , Malcolm J. Perry and Sasha Haco), which was only completed a few days before his death and published posthumously in October 2018 by his colleagues involved, is seen as a step towards solving the loss of information in black holes . The missing information is then found in the photons near the event horizon (these information relics stand for soft hair in the title of the work, which alludes to the no-hair theorem of black holes). Another work (with Thomas Hertog) that Hawking occupied shortly before his death (his last publication sent in during his lifetime) deals with his old no-boundary proposal for the origin of the universe ( Big Bang ). This proposal predicted eternal inflation and an infinite number of baby universes ( multiverse ) that would arise . In his last work he used the holographic principle for a description of the initial singularity in the context of a quantum gravitational theory in order to reduce the number of universes in the multiverse to a finite number. According to Hawking and Hertel, smooth universes similar to ours are most likely. They also made predictions from their model about signals from primordial gravitational waves in the CMB that, while not specific to their model, could falsify it.

Popular scientific writings and reception

In 1981 Hawking took part in a cosmology conference at the Vatican , where he presented his concept that the universe should have no limits. In this lecture he presented the universe at the same time as a phenomenon that simply exists and accordingly does not need a creator God .

“If the universe had a beginning, we can assume that it was created by a Creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, if it really has no limit and no edge, then it would have neither a beginning nor an end; it would be easy. Where would there still be room for a creator? "

In 1988, Hawking's first popular science book, A Brief History of Time , appeared, in which he presented theories of the origin of the universe, quantum mechanics and black holes. The book became a bestseller worldwide and sold in the millions. As a scientific author, Hawking also wrote other successful popular science works.

In April 2010, Stephen Hawking spoke about the potential risks the search for extraterrestrial life could pose to humanity. However, Hawking saw the need to colonize space .

In September 2010, Hawking said that no god was necessary for the universe to come into being. It is unnecessary to bring the hand of God into play to explain . The Times quoted from his new book The Grand Design (dt. The great design - A new explanation of the universe ):

“Because there is a law like that of gravity, a universe can and will create itself out of nothing. [...] Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something instead of nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. "

In 2016, at a series of lectures for the BBC , Hawking said that humanity was facing great dangers that would seriously endanger its existence in the long term. Genetically modified viruses , nuclear wars , artificial intelligence and global warming have the potential to wipe out humanity in the foreseeable future. Viewed over long periods of thousands of years, this is almost certain. The greatest danger for mankind is mankind itself. In this context, he renewed his demand to colonize other celestial bodies in the solar system in order to prevent human extinction. However, these colonies could only exist independently of the earth in a century at the earliest, so mankind should be particularly careful during this period.

Private life

The first signs of his illness began while studying at Oxford, which intensified during his studies at Cambridge from 1963 to 1965. The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) began his nervous system to destroy. Doctors prophesied that he only had a few years to live. However, his mental abilities were not affected. The diagnosis changed his life and gave him a boost in motivation. Hawking began his doctorate with Dennis Sciama in 1965 and married Jane Wilde , with whom he had three children, including Lucy Hawking . Since his hand was already showing signs of paralysis at that time, his dissertation had to be written down by several helpers. Since 1968 he had to rely on a wheelchair to get around.

Hawking on a parabolic flight , 2007

During a visit to the CERN research center in Geneva in 1985, Hawking suffered pneumonia , which was life-threatening in his condition. The result was a shortness of breath that could only be overcome by cutting the trachea . Since then, Hawking had also lost his ability to speak as a result of his underlying illness. Since then he has been using a voice computer for verbal communication . In 1990 he divorced his wife Jane. Hawking then lived with his carer Elaine Mason, whom he married in 1995. She accompanied him during his teaching and research activities as well as on research trips. In 2006 they got divorced. In October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI received him . in the Vatican .

Death and burial

Stephen Hawking died at his Cambridge home on March 14, 2018, aged 76. On March 31st, a private memorial service was held at St Mary the Great Church in central Cambridge, attended by approximately 500 guests and primarily family members, friends and colleagues. A large crowd attended the service in front of the church. Six fellow Hawkings from Gonville and Caius College carried the coffin into church, the bell struck once for each year of Hawkings life.

Although Hawking was an atheist , the funeral service took place as an Anglican service. After the funeral service, Hawking's body was taken to be cremated . On June 15, 2018, the ashes were buried as part of a memorial service in Westminster Abbey in London . His grave lies between the graves of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin . With his burial at Westminster Abbey, Hawking received "the highest honor that can be bestowed on a famous scientist on the island". 25,000 Brits had previously taken part in a lottery to award the 1000 visitor seats in Westminster Abbey. The last scientists to be honored with a funeral at Westminster Abbey prior to Hawking were Ernest Rutherford in 1937 and Joseph John Thomson in 1940 .

Voice computer (DECtalk DTC01)

Housing of Hawking's voice computer, 1999, Science Museum London

Hawking was unable to speak after his pneumonia in 1985. He raised an eyebrow for understanding when someone pointed to the correct letter on a blackboard. After that he used a voice computer. With a button in hand, he could choose from a list of terms on a screen, which were then sent to a speech generator. He could manage up to fifteen words a minute before his fingers were too weak.

Hawking in May 2006 during a press conference in the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Then Hawking used an infrared sensor in his glasses connected to the voice computer. The sensor emitted an infrared beam, which was reflected differently depending on whether Hawking tensed his right cheek muscle. This triggered the switch and confirmed a selection on the screen.

Reception in popular culture

In the episode Attack of the Borg - Part 1 of the US science fiction television series Spaceship Enterprise - The Next Century (first broadcast June 21, 1993) Hawking took part at his own request as an actor. He was the only person in the Star Trek universe to portray himself, playing poker with Data ( Brent Spiner ), Isaac Newton ( John Neville ) and Albert Einstein ( Jim Norton ) in the almost 3-minute opening scene, a holodeck simulation  - and wins. When he inspected the scenery of the engine room with the warp core in the center, he is said to have said, in essence: "I'm working on it". Two years earlier, in the episode Odan, the Special Envoy, an Enterprise transport ferry was named Hawking. Hawking had guest appearances in several episodes of the animated series The Simpsons and Futurama and also lent the voice of his voice computer for these. Hawking also had guest appearances in the television series Cosmo and Wanda , Dilbert , The Big Bang Theory and on the show Monty Python Live (mostly) (July 2014).

He was immortalized in the Madame Tussauds wax museum in London .

In the song Keep Talking by the group Pink Floyd on the album The Division Bell , Stephen Hawking speaks the introductory sentence “ For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk. "(German:" For millions of years people lived like animals. Then something happened that unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to speak. "). Hawking had originally recorded the lines used on the album for a commercial on British television. On Pink Floyd's album The Endless River , Hawking's voice computer with the same lyrics can be heard in the title Talkin 'Hawkin .
Another song that Hawking appears in is A Glorious Dawn with Carl Sagan , which was released as a single and video in 2009. As part of a project, Jack White had the vinyl edition of this single played in the stratosphere in 2016 .

In the books of the Hyperion saga by Dan Simmons , spaceships are accelerated to faster than light using the so-called Hawking propulsion system. One of the ships is named HS Stephen Hawking.

There is a TV biography (GB 2004) with Benedict Cumberbatch in the leading role under the title Hawking - The Search for the Beginning of Time . It deals with the years of his studies at Oxford - the time when the first symptoms of his illness appeared and he began his doctoral thesis (1962-1965). The Theory of Everything (dt. The Theory of Everything ) from the year 2014 is yet another biography of this period, focusing on his relationship with his then-wife Jane Hawking concentrated. Hawking is played by Eddie Redmayne , who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor - Drama and the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Hawking .

2004 published Nerdcore - Rapper MC Hawking his album A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking's Greatest Hits, despite the title his debut and only album simultaneously. The fictional story claims that Stephen Hawking leads a double life as a rapper. The chanting mimics Hawking's speech computer.

In September 2013, a documentary about his life called Hawking - A brief history of mine (Eng. Hawking - The remarkable story of a wonderful genius ) was released, on which Hawking worked as a screenwriter.

Awards and memberships

Stephen Hawking with Barack Obama at the White House before receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in August 2009

He was a thirteen honorary doctor.

Fonts (selection)

films and series

  • In 1991 Errol Morris made the American-Japanese documentary A Brief History of Time, based on Hawking's book of the same name.
  • A six-part television series by the US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Stephen Hawking's Universe (300 minutes in total), 1997. The titles of the individual parts are:
    • 1: Seeing is Believing
    • 2: The Big Bang (At the beginning of space and time)
    • 3: Cosmic Alchemy (Cosmic Alchemy)
    • 4: On the Dark Side (The Joker: Dark Matter)
    • 5: Black Holes and Beyond
    • 6: An Answer to Everything
This series should not be confused with the 3-part series of the Discovery Channel from 2010 Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking, which was broadcast in Great Britain under the title Stephen Hawking's Universe (German TV title: Stephen Hawking: Secrets of the Universe ).


  • Hubert Mania (ed.): The great Stephen Hawking reading book. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-498-04488-5 .
  • Michael White, John Gribbin: Stephen Hawking - The Biography. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-499-19992-0 .
  • Rüdiger Vaas : Hawking's New Universe - How the Big Bang came about. Kosmos, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-440-11378-3 .
  • Rüdiger Vaas: Just hawking! Ingenious thoughts weightlessly understandable. Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-440-15624-7 .
  • Gary Gibbons , Paul Shellard, Stuart Rankin (Eds.): The future of theoretical physics and cosmology - celebrating Stephen Hawking's 60th birthday. Cambridge University Press 2003, ISBN 0-521-82081-2 (Conference on Hawking's 60th birthday in Cambridge, therein by Hawking: Sixty Years in a nutshell. List of publications).
  • Paul Parsons, Gail Dixon, John Gribbin (preface): Stephen Hawking every 3 minutes. His life, his work, his influence. (Original title: 3-Minute Stephen Hawking. Translated by Carl Freytag), Springer, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-33003-2 .
  • Jane Hawking: Love has eleven dimensions. My life with Stephen Hawking. (Original title: Traveling to Infinity. Translated by Ralf Pannowitsch and Christiane Wagler), Piper, Munich / Zurich 2013, ISBN 978-3-492-05559-8 .
  • Horst Völz : That is time. Shaker Verlag, Düren 2019, ISBN 978-3-8440-6675-3 .
  • Florian Freistetter : Hawking in a nutshell. The cosmos of the great physicist. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2018, ISBN 978-3-446-26245-4 .

Broadcast reports

Web links

Commons : Stephen Hawking  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  9. ^ First in a lecture given at a conference of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican in 1982. Hartle and Hawking published their work under the title Wave function of the universe. In: Physical Review D. Volume 12, 1983, p. 2960.
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