In 1963, Stephen Hawking, then a physics student at the University of Cambridge, was given a few years of life. Now, 55 years later, after several successful books and many revolutionary cosmological theories, the acclaimed physicist and communicator of science has died. And his death has spawned a flow of respect and emotions from scientists around the world.
According to Lord Martin Rees – real astronomer, professor emeritus of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, and Hawking's partner in Cambridge – Hawking considered everything that happened after his devastating diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as an advantage. And he certainly did not miss a minute of that time.
"He did not simply survive," Rees said in a statement. "He became one of the most famous scientists in the world, hailed as a world-leading researcher in mathematical physics, for his best-selling books on space, time and the cosmos, and for his amazing triumph over adversity. is that there are some, of the successors of Einstein have done more to deepen our ideas about gravity, space and time. [Stephen Hawking’s Far-Out Ideas About Black Holes]
"His death has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake," said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who in 2017 became the first American to receive the Stephen Hawking Medal for Scientific Communication. "But it's not empty, think of it as a kind of vacuum energy that permeates the fabric of space-time that defies measurement."
An icon of science
Only 32, Hawking was elected a member of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, the national scientific institution more ancient of the world, for his work on radiation that escapes from black holes, later nicknamed Hawking radiation. But their scientific interests were much broader.
"He had the ambition and ability to address fundamental questions about gravity and quantum mechanics, his role in black holes and the origin of the universe," said David Wands, director of the Institute. of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, in the United Kingdom, and a former student of Hawking in Cambridge.
"He realized that black holes can emit radiation, which ultimately leads to evaporation," Wands said. "He also discovered that the same quantum effect in the very early universe can lead to small fluctuations in the density of hot thermal plasma, a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and this could lead to all the structures we observe in the cosmos that we surrounds, galaxies, stars and, ultimately, planets and people. "
A physicist of pop culture
In addition to overcoming the limits of theoretical physics and stunning his physicians with his persistent survival against all odds, Hawking managed to achieve something that many of his predecessors would consider impossible: he made a theme as complicated as astrophysics, a matter of widespread public fascination. His popular book "A Brief History of Time" (Bantam Books, 1988), in which he explains in simple terms the evolution of the universe, occupied the list of best-selling books of the British Sunday Times for a record of 237 weeks.
"He was a true genius who had great admiration and connection to the public," said Katherine Mathieson, executive director of the British Science Association. "Simplified and explained, but without gadgets, his assumption that people are curious about the universe and black holes was true, it inspired us all to ask ourselves"
Hawking – who used a wheelchair because of ALS and spoke with a machine – the synthesized voice due to a saving tracheotomy that he had in 1985 after contracting pneumonia during a trip to CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) – became a true icon of pop culture. The outpouring of condolences and expressions of respect on Twitter after the announcement of his death has spread far beyond the scientific community.
"In a loving memory of Stephen Hawking, it was an honor to have him", tweeted the team behind the television series "The Big Bang Theory" where Hawking appeared on three separate occasions, the last one which was less than a year ago. "Thank you for inspiring us and the world."
Hawking, according to his long-term scientific collaborator, Roger Penrose, always enjoyed his role as "celebrity scientist No. 1". He also appeared in an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and was expressed in "The Simpsons" and "Futurama", to name just a few. In 2015, British actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing Hawking in the biopic drama "The Theory of Everything."
Despite his popular appeal, Hawking remained firmly rooted in the scientific world, having served as a Lucasianian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, a position of great prestige that Isaac Newton once held, for 30 years until he retired in 2009 He was the author of technical documents until his last decade, according to Rees.
"Huge audiences would attend their public lectures, perhaps not always just for scientific edification," Penrose said in an obituary in The Guardian. "The scientific community could well form a more sober evaluation, it was extremely appreciated, in view of its many impressive, sometimes revolutionary, contributions to the understanding of the physics and geometry of the universe."
A vocal advocate for the rights of people with physical disabilities, Hawking showed the world that people can live full lives despite having serious physical ailments.
In 2007, the then 65-year-old participated in a zero-gravity parabolic flight that gave him a 4-minute weightless taste. Hawking was also scheduled to fly on one of Virgin Galactic's first suborbital flights. Unfortunately, this latest Hawking dream will not come true.
In a poignant tribute, Virgin Galactic's billionaire founder, Sir Richard Branson, said it was an honor to meet Hawking, who helped name the company's VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo vehicle in 2016. The spacecraft carries the pattern of Hawking's iris, said Branson, who regretted not having the opportunity to see the physicist flying in space.
"I am very sorry I did not take him to space as he so wished, but I was so grateful he was able to play such a significant role in the development of a new frontier that he was so passionate about," Branson said in a statement. "It was a great privilege to have him as VSS Unity, and we are honored to fly his iris in our spaceship."
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