Stephen Hawking - An Orthopaedically Handicapped Scientist

He is a man with an extremely weak body, unable to move about without a wheelchair, or even to speak without a machine.  And yet, amazingly this man is one of the famous scientists throughout the world.

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in England.  His father, Frank Hawking was also a scientist and used to research on diseases of warm climates.  His mother Isabella Hawking enjoyed a generous heritage from her parents.  Stephen Hawking’s primary education was from Albanse School.  He was very good at his studies.  He also took a keen interest in knowing and understanding various things.  Whenever he found a defective radio set or wristwatch, we would try to repair and understand its working.  Slowly, he started performing well in various activities other than his studies.  He also developed an interest in reading the biographies of great authors and intellectuals.  He was fond of listening to classical music and used to forget himself while doing so.  He went to Oxford University for higher studies and was considered an outstanding student.

After completing his studies, Stephen Hawking went to Cambridge University to research on theoretical physics.  After a few months, Stephen was found to be suffering from the non-curable “Motor Neuron disease”.  We was unable to move at all and had to depend on a wheelchair.  This sudden calamity shook Stephen.  At one point he thought that he would not be able to continue his studies.  However, he slowly regained confidence.  He met a beautiful girl, Jane Wilde.  Jane gave him support.  She counseled Stephen that life was not as meaningless as he thought.  Jane’s love gave him confidence and made him aware of his responsibility, given the Hughes medal by the Royal Society in 1976.  A series of medals started coming his way in 1976 and the stream continued uninterruptedly.  In 1978, he received the Albert Einstein Award.  The Royal Astronomical Society honoured him in 1985 with a gold medal.  He was also given the famous Wolf prize in 1988.  The Sunday Times selected him for a special prize for literature.  He was also selected for the Britannica Prize in the same year.

Stephen Hawking worked untiringly despite his acute disability.  He had limited mobility with his wheelchair but for his imagination even the universe was too small.  Very soon he was well-known for his study of Black Holes.  He was able to prove that matter with gravitational force had tremendous power.  He continued his research on the general theory of relativity developed by Einstein.  He had drawn the attention of the whole world with his presentation of his theory of the Big-Bang in 1969.  Before that, astronomers believed that matter was in the form of a big solid piece.  A blast in this big piece converted it to a number of small pieces which scattered in different place.  These scattered pieces were converted into stars, planets galaxies and other astronomical units.

Stephen presented a new theory, according to which the process of scattering is on even today.  Accordingly the universe is expanding.  To explain this, he gave the example of a balloon.  He said that if we mark two dots on a balloon and then pump air in the balloon then these dots will start moving away from each other, but will remain in the balloon.  Similarly, the various astronomical units of the universe, the galaxies etc. are moving away from each other but will remain in the universe.  Stephen has also imagined that after expanding to a limit the universe will shrink like a balloon and again become a solid piece.  To develop this hypothesis, Stephen did an in-depth study of astronomical physics, theoretical physics and theories of Astronomy.  He was also successful in explaining to the world the secrets behind the evolution of the universe and the history of events so far in a very simple and interesting language.

Stephen’s family life was pleasant.  His wife Jane continued to help him.  His two sons, Robert and Timmi, and daughter Lucy also helped him when they were grown.  With the cooperation of his family members he lead a comparatively comfortable life.  Due to his disability, he limited himself to research on theoretical physics and mathematics.  His colleagues and research scholars also helped him.  They never allowed his disability to become an obstacle in his work.  He used to go to seminars where he would impress scholars with his speeches.  He used to converse with them from his wheelchair.

In 1985 he suffered from severe pneumonia and needed artificial respiration.  An artificial breathing tube was implanted by surgery.  Due to this, he lost the power of speech.  This was a big problem for him.  In order to solve this problem, a personal computer was fitted on his wheelchair.  Alongwith this a speech synthesizer was also fitted with this computer.  He has a control box in his lap and by pressing a button, he is able to move a little bit in his motorized wheelchair.  He used to reply to people’s questions with the help of the speech synthesizer attached to the computer.  He lost the ability to write when his hands became very weak.  In spite of this severe disability, he has extraordinary confidence.  He prepares his lectures on his computer well in advance.  He has become very weak.  He is unable to use his hands or legs.  Whatever little strength his hands have, it is used to press the keyboard of the computer or buttons of the control box of the motorized wheelchair.  He gets tired but goes on thinking.  New equations keep developing in his mind.  On one hand his disability increases and, on the other, his memory sharpens.  He is becoming more and more optimistic.  Whenever a new idea occurs to him, his eyes glow behind the golden frames of his spectacles.  According to him, his wife Jane also considers him a great optimist.

Stephen Hawking also travels abroad.  When he went to the USA, he gave lectures at the California Institute of Technology and a large crowd assembled to hear him, including the former American President, Bill Clinton, selected dignitaries, scientists working in the universities etc.  The people listened to him carefully to gain the latest knowledge.

Stephen Hawking, who is considered equivalent to Newton and Einstein, considers his disability a blessing in disguise.  In fact, he is able to concentrate more on scientific research due to his disability.  He normally avoids the problem of mathematical equations.  Whenever he comes across such a problem, he converts it to a geometrical problem.  When the problem comes to his mind in a geometrical form, he is able to visualize everything.  He is well aware that people consider him a disabled talent.

Nowadays, Stephen Hawking is busy probing the secrets behind the relation between space and time.  He is trying to join the two theories of Einstein’s “Relativity” and “Quantum Mechanics” and develop a new equation.  He hopes that in next 20 years he will be able to clarify the relations between molecular physics and gravitational force.  He is also sure that he will combine the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.  It is interesting to note that when Stephen became disabled at the age of 21 years, doctors were apprehensive of his survival for more than a few years.  However, at the age of 57 years, Stephen desired to live long and continue his research work without interruption. On the other hand he tires while giving a lecture.  Then his nurse wipes his face with a wet towel and asks whether he would like to rest, but he declines and again begins to reply to the listener’s questions.  He also given written replies prepared by his computer later on.

According to Stephen’s new hypothesis, the universe has no limit.  He opines that the universe has several dimensions.  He also finds that the universe is like a cone.  If we cut this horizontally then it becomes circular.  If we cut it vertically then it will look like a parabola and there will be no end to it.

Stephen Hawking uses simple language and very common examples to explain his hypothesis.  According to the famous physicist, Preskil, he goes far away in order to explain his ideas.  He forces others to think more and more.  He also tries to know the reaction of the listener.  According to Preskil, the Nobel Prize is not given for research in astronomy generally, but there are some exceptions.  The research work done by him is very likely to fetch him the Nobel Prize.

In fact, he not only does research himself but also inspired more and more people to think and do research on various subjects.

Despite his severe disability, Stephen not only did research but also documented it regularly.  His first creation, “Large Scale Structure of Space Time” was published in 1973.  He wrote this along with G.F.R. Illis.  On the occasion of Einstein’s birth centenary in 1979 he wrote a book on the theory of general relativity on the basis of a survey.  In 1981, he wrote a book on super space and super gravity.  In 1983 his book titles The Very Early Universe was published.  In 1987 his book, 300 Years of Gravitational Force, was published.  The historic book of Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time was published in 1988.  He decided to write this book in 1982 after some lectures in Harvard University.  In this book he has tried to explain to the general reader how the evolution of the universe took place, what were the reason which made this evolution possible, how much time it took and what happened from time to time, whether the world will continue to remain like this and will never be destroyed, whether there are boundaries to the universe, whether there are other dimensions of space, when will the universe be destroyed, then what will happen?  Stephen took a lot to time to write this book.  In fact, he wanted to explain the various secrets of the universe to the readers in simple language.

While completing this book, Stephen lost his speech in 1985.  His student Bryan White played an important role in completing this book.  He also got various people to read it before sending it for publication.  He made several corrections even at the last moment.  Probably that is the reason that extraordinary remarks have been made about his book.  Carl Sagan has written that this book is about God.  Stephen has attempted to prove that God is non-existent.  Long back Einstein had questioned whether there is a God or not.  If God exists then what was his role during the evolution of the universe?

The result of the research done by Stephen that God is non-existent and even if he is there, he had no role in the evolution of the world, became very costly for him.  His wife Jane Wilde, who was an orthodox Christian was very hurt by his proposition.  She was so annoyed that she forgot that she had been with him in his early days of disability and did so much for him.  She left him and her children.  Stephen married again and his second wife’s name if Ellen Mason.  He lives with his new wife in London.

Stephen has replied to all questions regarding the birth of the universe in his book.  He has said that there are no boundaries to the universe.  At the same time there is no beginning.  There is no definite time frame of its destruction.  If somebody has created the universe then he didn’t have many options.  In the last paragraph of the book Stephen has hoped that after some time the secrets behind the birth and the future of the universe will become so crystal clear that not only scientists and philosophers, but also the common man, will be able to participate in a discussion on this subject.

The book was sold in very large numbers in several countries and several reviewers praised it.  At the same time, some critics also said that the large sale did not mean that people have read and understood it.  Despite several physical problems, Stephen, who is also known for his cheerful nature, replied very simple that he believed people bought his book only to keep or to show others.  However, this happens to all kinds of serious books such as the Bible, books written by Shakespeare etc.

In 1993, his book titled Black Holes and Baby Universe was published.  After this in 1996, he wrote The Nature of Space and Time along with Roser Penrose.  Apart from these books, he has written numerous articles.  Every publisher, editors of the newspapers and magazines are all eager to publish the works of this disabled scientists who can neither write nor speak.

It is hoped that Stephen Hawking will have a long life and give more and more knowledge to the world.

Source:  Eminent Disabled People of the World by Shri Vinod Kumar Mishra