Illustration by Tayla Jade McHardie

In Memory of Stephen Hawking

The world lost one of its greatest thinkers on the 14th of March, but his ideas live on.

Mar 24, 2018

I first picked up the popular science book A Brief History of Time in the summer of 2017, a month before the start of my first semester at NYU Abu Dhabi. I found it on my cousin’s bookshelf and I flipped through the pages to familiarize myself with some of the topics before embarking on university-level Physics classes. I read through the chapters on the history of the formulated and reformulated theories of the universe, those of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and eventually Newton. I learned about concepts like the relativity of time and the possibility of wormholes, all of which are, according to our current understanding of physics, true in theory. The book, written by the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, was my first introduction to Physics, and so the news about his death felt like I had personally lost an important figure.
In a statement, his three children Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said: It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love. We will miss him forever.”
For all the physical challenges he faced, the span of his life was exceptionally impressive. Diagnosed with the incurable Motor Neuron Disease at the age of 21, a disorder with a life expectancy of two to four years after onset, he lived until 76. The disorder, which causes the degeneration of motor neurons, the cells that control the voluntary movement of the body, appeared during his studies at the Cambridge PhD program and shortly before he met his first wife, Jane Hawking. Many believed that he would not live to complete his PhD program.
In his PhD thesis, titled Properties of Expanding Universes, he contributed to the ongoing debate on the origins of the universe at the time. In simple terms, Hawking argued that just as black holes can form once stars collapse onto themselves into a singularity, so too could the universe have once been collapsed into a singularity. Because the universe is still expanding, if we reversed time, everything would come closer together until reaching a single point in space with infinite density, a singularity. Indeed, most of his work afterwards dealt with cosmology and the nature of time. He provided a theoretical argument for the fact that black holes must emit radiation, causing them to lose mass and therefore disappear one day, a concept which is now named after him.
As the news of his death spread across the globe, many shared stories of his jovial nature. His humor captivated his colleagues and students alike. According to his biography, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, he would enjoy running over the toes of those who he did not like with his wheelchair: "One of Hawking’s regrets in life was not having an opportunity to run over Margaret Thatcher’s toes.” When asked about the claim, he responded: “A malicious rumour. I’ll run over anyone who repeats it.”
The British cosmologist Sir Martin Rees said that “few, if any, of Einstein’s successors have done more to deepen our insights into gravity, space and time.” Indeed, if Newton was known for being the first to formalize the concept of gravity, and Einstein for his theory of general relativity connecting gravity to the curvature of space-time, then Hawking will be remembered for his theories and contributions on black holes, which remain unmatched to this day.
For Hawking, his work sought to answer some of humanity’s earliest questions and provide “a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” Though the world lost one of its greatest thinkers on March 14, his ideas live on. “Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them,” said once Hawking about the scientists who inspired him in his youth. Hawking and his ideas are one of the giants that scientists of future generations will stand on.
Nathan Quimpo is Deputy Features Editor. Email him at
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