News, Science

Scientist Stephen Hawking Dead At Age 76

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Photo of Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair. Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/
Stephen Hawking. Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/

When we think of scientific geniuses, we may think of Albert Einstein or Marie Curie. Stephen Hawking was right up there with the most brilliant minds of any generation. He passed away last week, at the age of 76.

It would take a book — or a movie (there are both) — to even scratch the surface of his accomplishments, his tremendous sense of humour, his influence on millions of people and the vast depths of his knowledge.

He helped the world better understand black holes and string theory. Black holes are extremely dense regions in space. We can’t see them. In fact, we can understand what they are only by how they affect things around them. Hawking furthered our understanding of them and many other areas of physics. His groundbreaking work changed science forever.

Hawking was a professor at Cambridge University in England.

One of the most famous books of many written by Hawking is A Brief History of Time, in which he explains much about his scientific theories and explores the meaning of the universe.

He also wrote a children’s book (with his daughter, Lucy, for kids age 9 and up) called George’s Secret Key to the Universe. It has four sequels: George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt (2009), George and the Big Bang (2011), George and the Unbreakable Code (2014) and George and the Blue Moon (2016).

Hawking was in a wheelchair because he had a disease called ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.) It affected his ability to walk and talk. He was diagnosed with it in university and he was only given two more years to live, but he lived much longer. For much of his life, Hawking used a speech synthesizer which “spoke” phrases he typed. Hawking’s “voice” became instantly recognizable.

Hawking was not only brilliant, but he had a wonderful sense of humour, even playing featured characters on TV shows like the Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.

There are many stories about funny things Hawking said or did. For instance, once following a TV interview the producer was putting away the broadcasting equipment and pulled a big plug from the wall. At the same time, Hawking slumped over, as though the producer had accidentally unplugged one of Hawking’s life-sustaining pieces of equipment. When the producer rushed over to him, Hawking started laughing at his own prank.

Related Links

Hawking’s website.

NEW LINK! Hawking’s most recent scientific paper is about his theory of the existence of a “multiverse.” It has not yet been published. Read about it here.

One of Hawking’s scientific papers, Black hole explosions? (about his discovery that it is possible for particles to come out of black holes) published in the scientific journal Nature.

Here’s a good video by The Guardian: Stephen Hawking’s big ideas … made simple. It talks about black holes in a simple way. https://www.theguardian.com/news/video/2013/sep/19/stephen-hawking-history-time-simple-video

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS
By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Stephen Hawking was not only a brilliant scientist, he was an incredibly thoughtful, creative and curious person. Below are three quotations from Stephen Hawking. Pick one and explain what it means to you.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”

“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

Reading Prompt: Extending Understanding
When people think of adjectives to describe Stephen Hawking, genius is a description that is consistently at the top of the list. What does it mean to be a genius? What makes someone a genius? 

Junior
Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Intermediate
Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading: 1.6).

Language Feature:
The article explains that, “For much of his life, Hawking used a speech synthesizer which ‘spoke’ phrases he typed. Hawking’s ‘voice’ became instantly recognizable.”

Look up Hawking’s speech synthesizer so you can get a sense of how it worked and how it sounded. As you heard, the speech synthesizer does not have a wide range in tone. It doesn’t go very high or low and it is pretty consistent. When we speak with our voices, we add expression to our voices to add to the meaning of what we’re saying. What might have been some of the challenges Stephen Hawing faced when communicating with a speech synthesizer?