The loss of influential figures is inevitable. It seems as though every year we find ourselves remembering the successes of some of the world’s most beloved actors, athletes and musicians. Now, we remember the life of world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking.
Hawking passed away at age 76 on March 14. A man of many talents, Hawking was also a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician and author. Mark Byrne, associate professor of physics at Spring Hill College, discussed Hawking’s ability to influence: “The papers and texts I read while working on a Ph.D. were not usually in areas where Hawking published. He has, of course, been very influential in several fields of physics.” Byrne noted that Hawking’s introduction of the information paradox of black holes has “influenced quantum gravity research programs for 40 years.” When asked if he references Hawking in his classes, Byrne shared that his classes discuss black holes and Hawking radiation every time he teaches astronomy.
For many people, Hawking is considered a hero. Not only did his scientific work earn him numerous awards and honors, but he found success while battling a disease that left him paralyzed. Hawking suffered from ALS: a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Hawking is known for his research and books that question the mysteries of the universe. “A Brief History of Time,” a best-seller written by Hawking, discusses subjects ranging from the Big Bang to black holes. Byrne recalled reading the “excellent” book during his undergraduate years. According to The Washington Post, the book was published in 1988 and has since sold over 10 million copies. The New York Times described “A Brief History of Time” as a “jaunty and absolutely clear little book” that shared Hawking’s ideas “with everyone who can read.” Because of the book’s ability to reach audiences that initially may be intimidated by the material, “A Brief History of Time” had popular appeal and made Hawking a cultural icon.
Hawking made appearances on popular television shows such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Futurama” and “The Simpsons.” Along with his brilliant mind, Hawking was known for his witty sense of humor. Despite his disease, Hawking remained hopeful. In a 2004 interview with The New York Times, he was quoted saying, “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” After his death earlier this month, popular figures such as Bill Nye, Buzz Aldrin and Barack Obama used Twitter to mourn the loss of the beloved physicist. Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking in the Oscar-nominated “The Theory of Everything,” tweeted, “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.”
After his death, articles began circulating that discussed Hawking’s final paper regarding the “multiverse” theory. Byrne said, “In a sense, the theory community has been pushed by data toward a multiverse interpretation.” Byrne shared that although physicists have their doubts on the multiverse, “it’s clear [Hawking] was characteristically thinking on a large scale.”
Whether one knows Hawking from his research papers or television cameos, his contributions and impact on the scientific community will live on. Byrne stated, “I think his fundamental research will be taught in physics departments as long as physics as a discipline is extant.” There is no doubt Hawking will continue to be an inspiration for years to come.