Published : Wednesday, March 14, 2018 | 3:33 PM
Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking left this world at age 76 — appropriately enough, on Pi Day.
Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942. He attended University College, Oxford, where he studied physics and earned his Ph.D. in cosmology from Cambridge in 1965.
Just shy of his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Despite an unfavorable prognosis, he went on to live decades longer than expected.
He also was a frequent and well-loved visitor to Pasadena, both in real life and on television, via the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” It was here much of his seminal research on black holes took place. In 1970, he was appointed to the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished visiting professorship at Caltech. Though he was only in Pasadena a year, he maintained ties to the school and spent a month in Pasadena annually ever since. At Caltech, his continued to carry out research and exchange ideas with faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students alike.
Kip S. Thorne, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus was a close friend and colleague. “Stephen was not only one of the greatest scientists of our era; he was also a wonderful friend, and an inspiration to me, both personally and scientifically. He lived life to the full. He took me to Antarctica in the depths of the Antarctic winter! His sense of humor was legendary. When he started a sentence, laboriously on his computer, I never knew whether it would end in a deep pearl of wisdom or an off-the-wall joke. His insights into our universe have inspired generations of physicists who follow in his wake and will continue to inspire for decades to come. I miss him terribly already.”
“He was one of the world’s greatest physicists, and his death is an enormous loss,” says Sean Carroll, a friend of Hawking’s and a research professor of physics at Caltech. “He did more to advance our understanding of gravity than anyone since Albert Einstein. Stephen was also an irrepressible character who persevered in the face of overwhelming adversity. He traveled frequently, and could have gone anywhere; we were fortunate that he chose to come to Caltech frequently.”
Hawking was known for his scientific wagers, including a bet with Thorne and John P. Preskill, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, regarding his declaration on the loss of information in a black hole. He eventually conceded that he had been wrong. In addition, he bet Thorne that the X-ray source called Cygnus X-1 was not a black hole; he, again, lost the bet. Preskill recalls, “What I’ll remember best about my time with Stephen is that we could make each other laugh. I sensed when we first met that he would enjoy being treated irreverently. So, in the middle of a scientific discussion I could interject, ‘And what makes you so sure of that, Mr. Know-It-All?’ knowing that Stephen would respond with his eyes twinkling, ‘Wanna bet?’”
Fictional Pasadenans and Caltech staffers via “The Big Bang Theory” also weighed in on the loss. The show’s Facebook post reads: “In memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him with us in The Big Bang Theory. Thank you for inspiring us all and the whole world.”