Stephen William Hawking, is widely regarded as one of best minds in physics in the 21st century. He shot to fame after his path breaking proof of the “Big Bang Theory” which said that the universe started from a singularity in space and time. Author of the bestselling popular science book “A Brief History of Time”, Hawking has strived to make his work more accessible to the general public. He has also famously survived inspite of having Motor Neuron Disease, even though he was given only 2 years to live when he was diagnosed at a very young age.
Here are a few interesting facts and stories about Professor Hawking that you probably did not know:
#1. Hawking was not a bright kid in school.
Even though right now we regard Hawking as one of the greatest minds on this planet, he was not a very bright kid in school. When he was 9 years old, his grades were amongst the worst in class and even later with some effort he could bring them up to only about average. But most of his teachers agree that this was simply because he was too lazy to study for grades. Even at that age he showed extreme interest in knowing how things worked in the world.
#2. Hawking was on the Oxford rowing team.
Hawking was socially awkward when he joined Oxford to study physics. Out of sheer boredom and loneliness, he decided to join the Oxford Rowing Team. But he was built strongly enough to actually row the boat, so he was given the job of a coxswain – a person who does not actually row, but controls the direction in which the boat moves and the stroke rate of the oarsmen. As a result of this, Hawking soon lost his awkwardness and became one of the most popular students in Oxford. A popular genius!
#3. Hawking is a children’s book author.
We all know that Hawking is the best selling author of popular science books like “The Brief History Of Time”, “The Thoeory of Everything” and “The Grand Design”. But did you know that he is also the author of a series of children’s books which he co-wrote with his daughter Lucy Hawking. The first of these books is called “George’s Secret Key to the Universe” and the second is called “George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt”. These books follow the adventures of a young rebellious boy called George who finds a computer which offers portals to see into outer space. Hawking simplified the advanced concepts of physics and imbibed them into these books so as to make his work accessible to kids too.
#4. Hawking took a zero gravity flight to save the human race.
In 2007, Hawking took a zero gravity flight using the service provided by Zero Gravity Corp. This service allows people to take a flight which ascends and descends quickly to give people the feeling of free-fall (zero gravity) which can extend for up to 25 seconds. Hawking, able to float out of his wheelchair, performed acrobatics in zero gravity. But the reason he did this was strange and seems straight out of science fiction. Hawking says that in the future due to global warming and nuclear war the Earth might not be habitable anymore, so he supports tourist space travel in which normal people can travel to outer space and colonise other planets and their satellites in the future when the Earth can no more sustain human life. Sounds straight out of the movie “Interstellar”, eh?
#5. Hawking has appeared on TV. A lot.
Apart from being a famous physicist, Hawking is also known to have an excellent sense of humour. An animated version of him appeared on “The Simpsons” for which he himself lent the voice of his famous voice synthesiser. He also appeared in person on the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” (wait, was that intentional?) and Star Trek: Next Generation. He has also appeared in hit documentary shows like “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking” and “Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe”. He is perhaps the only scientist who enjoys such wide fame even across people who perhaps don’t fully understand his work (most of us don’t!), Hawking has worked relentlessly for science to become available to everyone.
#6. The “Big Bang” theory was named so to actually mock Hawking.
When Hawking first proposed the Big Bang Theory, cosmologists widely believed in the “Steady State Theory”. This theory supported the claim that the universe was static and has existed forever. In fact when he first proposed the idea that the universe exploded from a single point, people mocked him saying that Hawking said that there was just a “Big Bang” at the beginning and everything came into existence. It was intended to mock him. But later when he proved his theory, the name stuck which partly contributed to the fame the theory garnered.
#7. Hawking once lost a bet on Black Holes.
Hawking made a bet in 1997 with American theoretical physicist John Preskill about the informational paradox of black holes which said that nothing can escape from a black hole, not even information. But this violated one of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics. Later on, Hawking was proved wrong, and he admitted his defeat in 2004.
#8. Hawking’s voice is one of a kind. Literally.
The voice which Hawking’s speech systhesiser uses is not used anymore by the company which makes those synthesisers. His artificial voice has an American accent even though he is actually British. Even though better and more clear voices are now available, Hawking has refused to upgrade his voice since he believes that the voice has become a part of his identity and people identify him with that voice. Thus his voice is quite literally: one of it’s kind.
#9. Sherlock was once Hawking!
That the recent movie, “The Theory of Everything” is based on Stephen Hawking’s life is common knowledge. But another movie based on his life “Hawking” was released for BBC in 2004 and it featured none other than Benedict Cumberbatch (of “Sherlock” fame) as Professor Hawking! Sherlock Holmes as Hawking! Oh, I bet you’re already on your way to find that movie and watch it!
#10. Hawking suffers from ALS.
Almost all of us know that Stephen Hawking suffers from Motor Neuron Disease, but very few actually know that another name for the disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig Syndrome. Yes, it is the same ALS from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos going around on the internet. Hawking is perhaps the most famous personality suffering from the disease (and one of the only few who are alive even so many years of being diagnosed with the disease).
In fact, Hawking accepted the Ice Bucket Challenge, but since he could not do it himself due to medical reasons, his children did on his behalf.