Stephen Hawking Tribute

Hawking Tribute

“There is no such thing as a standard run-of-the mill human being. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.” These are the words spoken by Professor Stephen W. Hawking during the opening of the 2012 Paralympics Ceremony. Now, more than ever, these words ring true. On Wednesday, March 14th, 2018, Professor Hawking, an outstanding academic and advocate, passed away in his home in Cambridge, UK.

Professor Hawking received his PhD in Physics from the University of Cambridge in 1966, amidst a hopeless diagnosis of early-onset ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a type of degenerative motor neuron syndrome. Initially given only two years to live, Hawking went on to a scientifically fruitful and lively career of nearly 56 years, working on complex existential problems in the field of cosmology, such as the beginning of the universe within a singularity, but also as a gleaming inspiration to those facing grave odds in life.

Best known academically for his postulation that black holes are not indeed “black,” but in fact radiate heat known as “Hawking Radiation,” the prominent physicist went on to publish numerous works about the nature of space-time itself. Professor Hawking drew international fame for his popular science book, A Brief History of Time, ultimately becoming one of the most prolific figures in physics and cosmology to the general public.

A Brief History of Time is written for the non-scientist reader and is continually updated with revised editions. The book is a step-by-step explanation of the theories surrounding modern-day cosmology, spanning from the creation of the universe itself to the theorized end of all that we know. Hawking specifically writes with the intent of breaking down the complex academic world of cosmology for individuals who are either new to the terminology and theories, or who never would have encountered the material in their everyday lives. A Brief History of Time helped spark a trend of popular science books written by the likes of Carl Sagan (Cosmos, Billions and Billions, Contact and The Demon-Haunted World) and Michio Kaku (Physics of the Impossible, Physics of the Future, Einstein’s Cosmos and Parallel Worlds), creating public access to complex ideas in an otherwise closed academic environment.

Over the course of his career, he gave numerous international lectures and talks to both academics and the public, appeared in several documentaries, science shows, films, popular culture movies and TV shows. Hawking also garnished several awards, such as becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, membership of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in science, science communication, and disabilities advocacy. Hawking was given the title of the Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a prestigious academic position at one of the leading global research universities. He additionally founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, also at Cambridge, in 2007 at which he was the Director of Research until his death.

Hawking’s influence reached into social commentary as well. In the later years of his life, Hawking became increasingly vocal about the perils that human civilization faces, and will continue to face, in the shadow of increased technological development, climate change, political undermining of democracy and civilian rights, a new age of space exploration, and global warfare. Particularly, Hawking felt strongly about increased access to resources the redistribution of wealth. Hawking wrote often about the lack of funding awarded to disability students in Britain’s academic grant systems, especially in the wake of the UK’s Brexit referendum in 2016. He wrote, “Cash can set individuals free, just as poverty can certainly trap them and limit their potential, to their own detriment and that of the human race.”

Some of Hawking’s latest writing before his death entwined the need for humanity to stay present in its quest for technological progress. In a 2016 article for the Guardian, he wrote, “Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.” This sentiment echoed his increased convictions that human society needs to address its socioeconomic inequalities, heightened by global warming, before any responsible progress in tech could be made. In the same vein as his critical commentary, yet unwavering optimism in human progress, Hawking launched in 2016, a website devoted to the writings of the world’s leading thinkers.

Hawking will be missed dearly by millions internationally, but his legacy and publications will continue to inspire new generations of physicists, cosmologists, science communicators, artists, and writers. His official obituary, released by the University of Cambridge, can be found here. You can read some of his publications in the UCLA Library collections.

Stephen Hawking’s personal website:  

Books in the Library stacks (various locations):

In UCLA Subscription Databases:

Access to these resources can be found on any UCLA campus computer or, for UCLA users only, off-campus access through Bruin Online Proxy Server or the UCLA VPN Client. If you would like more help with the library resources or about research questions in general, please contact a Science and Engineering Librarian, or stop by the SEL Reference Desk during regular business hours. For a full list of science and engineering databases, see our Key Resources page.

By Hayley Bricker, SEL Reference Desk Assistant