SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory View Alerts

Why I'm grateful to Stephen Hawking

One light may have gone out. But the lights Stephen Hawking lit burn on.Professor Hawking, perhaps the world'...

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 12:06 AM

One light may have gone out. But the lights Stephen Hawking lit burn on.

Professor Hawking, perhaps the world's most recognizable face of science, has died. Hawking's birth and death occurred on auspicious dates. March 14, the day he died, was the 139th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth, and he was born on January 8,1942, the 300th anniversary of the death of renowned astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that paralyzes the patient. When he received his diagnosis in 1963, doctors believed he had only two years to live. Defying all odds, he outlived that prediction by more than 50 years. And he put those 50 years to good use.

Hawking did not allow the paralysis of his body to cripple his nimble brain. Confined to a wheelchair, he spent his time in thought. While it would have been entirely understandable for him to sink into deep depression, instead he turned his mind to one of the thorniest problems of modern physics.

In 1915, Einstein invented the theory of general relativity, which describes the nature of gravity under extreme conditions. It predicts black holes -- places where gravity is so strong that not even light can escape. A few years later, a coterie of physicists invented quantum mechanics, a theoretical framework that explained the world of atoms and even smaller objects.

When researchers tried to combine these two subjects to understand the theory of gravity in the microcosm, they failed entirely. And that has been the state of affairs for the last century. Quantum gravity is still an unsolved problem.

Hawking's doctoral work showed Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that the universe began in a singularity, which meant the energy and matter of the entire universe was concentrated in a single point. But he knew this result neglected the effects of quantum mechanics, which meant it was not the final word on the subject.

But it did point to the fact that studying black holes would be a fruitful way to learn about the birth of the universe. So, he spent the remainder of his scientific career investigating these cosmic conundrums.

His most influential work explored the nature of entropy in the vicinity of black holes. Entropy is a measure of disorder and there is a principle of physics that says that entropy (e.g. disorder) must increase. Yet matter falling into a black hole seemed to decrease disorder. Following a chain of thought proposed by a younger physics student by the name of Jacob Bekenstein, Hawking determined a relationship between the surface area of the outside of a black hole and the disorder.

Combining these insights led him to understand that black holes actually had a temperature. Since anything with a temperature radiates energy, this means that black holes radiate energy. This was impossible using just Einstein's equations, but when Hawking included the principles of quantum mechanics, he showed that black holes could indeed radiate energy. This energy is now called Hawking radiation. While it has not been experimentally confirmed, it is generally conceded to be true by working physicists.

Hawking's scientific work resulted in him being awarded the Lucasian Chair at the University of Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton. Hawking's scientific accomplishments are exemplary.

However, it is his contribution to society that made his greatest impact. Hawking was the most recognizable scientific face on the planet. His book "A Brief History of Time," written for nonscientists, has sold more than 10 million copies since its publication in 1988. He has appeared on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "The Simpsons," and "The Big Bang Theory." He has published many other books with great success. It's been said that Hawking could publish his grocery list and it would be avidly read by his many fans.

If I might indulge in a personal anecdote: Hawking was one of many who inspired me to write my own books on science for the public (albeit with fewer copies sold). On one of his visits to Fermilab, we were able to speak very briefly. He had published "A Brief History of Time" and I congratulated him on its success and expressed an interest in writing myself. He encouraged me to try and the result was that several years later I published my first book. Several books later, I am still grateful for that encouragement.

Stephen Hawking influenced a generation of science enthusiasts for over three decades. Through his cordial relationship with the media, he motivated and inspired people to study the great questions and to think about the unsolved mysteries that stand before us. It is up to those of us who have followed in his footsteps to carry the torch and share his infectious enthusiasm for learning about the world around us.

Lafayette
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 26°
Kokomo
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 21°
Rensselaer
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 21°
Lafayette
Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 26°
Danville
Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 23°
Frankfort
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 17°
Frankfort
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 17°
Monticello
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 24°
Monticello
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 35° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 24°
Logansport
Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 24°
Ice, Rain & Snow.....
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 611039

Reported Deaths: 9716
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion844351336
Lake45508685
Allen32891552
Hamilton29546315
St. Joseph27449381
Elkhart24440345
Vanderburgh19513250
Tippecanoe18043140
Johnson15140295
Porter14865169
Hendricks14440248
Madison11009222
Vigo10769181
Clark10731144
Monroe9424113
Delaware9152134
LaPorte9103164
Howard8268144
Kosciusko808983
Warrick676599
Hancock6741104
Bartholomew6523100
Floyd6469110
Wayne6157162
Grant6011116
Dubois556980
Boone554668
Morgan545795
Henry509764
Marshall505384
Cass485264
Dearborn483245
Noble474059
Jackson426747
Shelby419581
Lawrence392980
Clinton374243
Gibson372559
Harrison350945
DeKalb348264
Montgomery346554
Knox335839
Miami323044
Steuben314545
Whitley309726
Wabash304551
Adams302136
Ripley300046
Putnam297850
Huntington293159
Jasper290534
White274143
Daviess271274
Jefferson264738
Decatur248983
Fayette247848
Greene241162
Posey240328
Wells236451
LaGrange229662
Scott225739
Clay223532
Randolph214948
Jennings199336
Sullivan192933
Spencer192422
Washington187523
Fountain184627
Starke175643
Jay168223
Owen166837
Fulton164230
Orange160835
Carroll159115
Rush155818
Perry155229
Vermillion149334
Franklin149033
Tipton133033
Parke13088
Pike118226
Blackford111422
Pulaski97337
Newton91721
Brown88235
Benton86910
Crawford8069
Martin74413
Warren6857
Switzerland6665
Union6287
Ohio4957
Unassigned0376

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events