Monday, September 28, 2015

Scientist of the week

 Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. At an early age, Hawking showed a passion for science and the sky. At age 21, while studying cosmology at the University of Cambridge, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Despite his debilitating illness, he has done groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology, and his several books have helped to make science accessible to everyone.
Early in his academic life, Hawking, while recognized as bright, was not an exceptional student. During his first year at St. Albans School, he was third from the bottom of his class. But Hawking focused on pursuits outside of school; he loved board games, and he and a few close friends created new games of their own. During his teens, Hawking, along with several friends, constructed a computer out of recycled parts for solving rudimentary mathematical equations.
By his own account, Hawking didn't put much time into his studies. He would later calculate that he averaged about an hour a day focusing on school, yet he didn't really have to do much more than that. In 1962, he graduated with honors in natural science and went on to attend Trinity Hall at Cambridge University for a PhD in cosmology.
Hawking first began to notice problems with his physical health while he was at Oxford—on occasion he would trip and fall, or slur his speech—he didn't look into the problem until 1963, during his first year at Cambridge. For the most part, Hawking had kept these symptoms to himself. But when his father took notice of the condition, he took Hawking to see a doctor. For the next two weeks, the 21-year-old college student made his home at a medical clinic, where he underwent a series of tests.
"They took a muscle sample from my arm, stuck electrodes into me, and injected some radio-opaque fluid into my spine, and watched it going up and down with X-rays, as they tilted the bed," he once said. "After all that, they didn't tell me what I had, except that it was not multiple sclerosis, and that I was an atypical case."
In a very simple sense, the nerves that controlled his muscles were shutting down. Doctors gave him two and a half years to live.
The predicament caught the attention of a California computer programmer who had developed a speaking program that could be directed by head or eye movement. The invention allowed Hawking to select words on a computer screen that were then passed through a speech synthesizer. At the time of its introduction, Hawking, who still had use of his fingers, selected his words with a handheld clicker. Today, with virtually all control of his body gone, Hawking directs the program through a cheek muscle attached to a sensor.
Before the diagnosis, Hawking hadn't always focused on his studies. "Before my condition was diagnosed, I had been very bored with life," he said. "There had not seemed to be anything worth doing." With the sudden realization that he might not even live long enough to earn his PhD, Hawking poured himself into his work and research.
In 1974, Hawking's research turned him into a celebrity within the scientific world when he showed that black holes aren't the information vacuums that scientists had thought they were. In simple terms, Hawking demonstrated that matter, in the form of radiation, can escape the gravitational force of a collapsed star. Hawking radiation was born.
In 1988 Hawking, a recipient of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire, catapulted to international prominence with the publication of A Brief History of Time. The short, informative book became an account of cosmology for the masses. The work was an instant success, spending more than four years atop the London Sunday Times' best-seller list. Since its publication, it has sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into more than 40 languages.
Together the books, along with Hawking's own research and papers, articulate the physicist's personal search for science's Holy Grail: a single unifying theory that can combine cosmology (the study of the big) with quantum mechanics (the study of the small) to explain how the universe began. It's this kind of ambitious thinking that has allowed Hawking, who claims he can think in 11 dimensions, to lay out some big possibilities for humankind. He's convinced that time travel is possible and that humans may indeed colonize other planets in the future.
--Haley Goodebiddle 

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