As you’ve no doubt heard, physicist, writer, and role-model Stephen Hawking died peacefully in his sleep on March 13th.
I first heard the news from my mother-in-law within minutes of the announcement on her local news. My first reaction was disbelief, and then a quiet acceptance of something that my wife and I had known was inevitable.
I first came across Professor Hawking’s work, not long after I started working at my local library. It was around the time that “A Brief History of Time” came out, and the book was constantly on the reserve list, because people wanted to find out exactly why it was such a big seller.
I was 14 at the time, and interested in science and computers. But it took only a quick look through the start of the book to realize that I wasn’t going to understand a lot of what it talked about. However, it did inspire me to go on and study physics and when I picked up the book again it was about 10 years later, and I understood a lot of what I was reading, even though I’d almost flunked physics.
Regardless of being able to understand everything, or not, I made a point of learning about Hawking, and his work, and found myself inspired on many levels.
Diagnosed with motor neurone disease (also known as ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) at the age of 22, Hawking was told he probably had no more than 2 years to live. That was back in 1963, and he was already making great strides in the realms of theoretical physics, where he would continue to make his mark for another 55 years.
To say that Hawking surpassed the expectations of medical is an understatement, and his work has revolutionized many fields of science. But there was more to Hawking than just his capacity for living with a condition that has an exceptionally high mortality rate, and still managing to produce groundbreaking work.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Hawking present his work to audiences, explaining his theories through the use of a specialized computer and speech synthesizer. Or his guest appearances on TV shows, where he played himself or took part in interviews with a sharp wit and cheeky grin.
That wit and humor couldn’t have been displayed better than by his most famous party, which no-one attended except Hawking himself. Not surprising when you consider he was inviting only time travelers from the future. Although I have to admit, I was disappointed to see that attendance was so low. Just the possibility of time travel has been an inspiration for so many science fiction writers.
There are many other reasons to be inspire by Hawking, but we all have the things we’ll remember him for. I think that, for me, this quote sums up why I found Hawking such an inspiration.
Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts in the comments…