Remembering Stephen Hawking and What He Taught Us

Early Wednesday morning on March 14, 2018, world-renowned physicist and author, Stephen Hawking, passed away. The Cambridge University physicist was confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, but his mind searched the inner depths of the universe, always curious of life’s origin. There are very few who have had the effects on modern physics like Stephen Hawking did. As physics professor, Michio Kaku, said, “Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world.”

Millions, through literature and film, know his name. His best-known book is called A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, which was published in 1988. The Academy Award Winning film, The Theory of Everything, was released in 2014, which chronicles his life and all that he had to overcome. Actor, Eddie Redmayne, took on the daunting task of portraying Hawking. His breathtaking performance earned him an Oscar for best actor in a leading role.

One of the biggest lessons to learn from his life is to never give up and to not limit yourself. If anyone had an excuse to live a limited life it was Stephen Hawking. In 1963, he learned he had Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which attacks the nerve cells that control voluntary movement. The doctors believed that Hawking would only have a few more years to live.

Though physically paralyzed, he continued to do what he loved: ask questions and explore the universe. Two concepts of life that he explored were gravity and black holes. His curious nature led him to discover that black holes were not black after all. He also discovered that black holes would eventually disintegrate, trickling radiation and particles, and disappear. This was something so unusual that even Hawking did not believe it to be true at first. As he stated in 1978, “I wasn’t looking for them at all. I merely tripped over them. I was rather annoyed.” This all led to his published work, Black Hole Explosions?, which is still praised by scientists. His career only took off from that point.

He did not only let his physical disablement interfere with his career, but he did not let it interfere with his personal life either. In his lifetime, Hawking visited several scientific conferences in every continent (yes, even Antarctica), married twice and had children and grandchildren, and even appeared in sitcoms such as The Simpsons, Star Trek, and The Big Bang Theory. On his 65th birthday, Hawking had the chance of a lifetime by partaking in zero gravity flight on a Boeing 727. After being asked why he did this, Hawking said, “I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as they are not disabled in spirit.”

With all that being said, Hawking’s life is one that inspired many and will continue to inspire years ahead. It goes to show what anyone is capable of, despite circumstances fighting against one’s dreams. His life has shown the importance of asking questions, taking risks, never giving up, and always challenging oneself. Though he could only speak through a computer connected to him, his eyes spoke such a million words of exhortation towards the young minds of the world. They said something like, “Do not give up. Do not allow limitations to limit you. Things happen and there is nothing you can do except to keep fighting. Nothing can hold you back, just as ALS did not hold me back.” These inaudible words will continue to boost confidence in those whose dreams seem too far out of reach. Though he is now deceased with other great thinkers such as Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein, his legacy will continue to serve as a treasure to those who doubt themselves, being the motivation to drive many wondering minds out of the slumps and onto greatness.

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