Stephen Hawking: from Newton’s department to Einstein’s rostrum

Why is the legendary British theoretical physicist similar to Newton and Einstein and what made them different?

Stephen Hawking: from Newton’s department to Einstein’s rostrum Photo: wikipedia.org (Lucy Hawking represents her father before lecture for NASA)

Legendary British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking passed away last week. Soviet and Russian diplomat and our columnist Yulduz Khaliullin, famous science writer, couldn't help but miss this tragic news. And he dedicated today's column of Realnoe Vremya to this scientist.

World lost its first-rate scientist

Sad news came from London last week: outstanding physicist, space researcher Stephen Hawking – one of the most important modern-day theoretical physicists – died aged 77.

He was the director of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years – from 1979 to 2009. What's interesting is that Isaac Newton chaired this department in the 17 th century. Other famous people also worked here, particularly Paul Dirac – an outstanding physicist, Nobel Prize laureate in 1933, Professor Abdus Salam's teacher, the hero of my five documentary books.

Just as I wanted to gather necessary material on a sunny day in early summer in 2005, I visited the University of Cambridge or, more precisely, its famous laboratory. Right Nobel Prize laureate, great specialist in quantum thermodynamics Abdus Salam's youngest son Omar Salam accompanied me. He is a 35-year-old professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. First of all, I was interested in the places in which professor Abdus Salam lived, worked, started his own road who came from remote Pakistan as a 22-year-old guy and did a PhD dissertation at Cambridge.

During the one-week stay in London, I also visited other interesting places. I will say in advance I asked Omar Salam to show the Department of Mathematics of Trinity College at Cambridge. It's where Abdus Salam began his journey. He showed me the department and said Hawking gave lectures here from time to time, and it was very difficult to get there. But his power was that he could explain for 2-3 minutes what a black hole was and anyone would understand. Due to his disease, he could pronounce 10-15 words per 2 minutes. Anyway, it was interesting and understandable. I remembered it all clearly.

He characterised black holes: losing their mass, they generate huge energy that later was called Hawking radiation. Photo: wikipedia.org (Alain r)

Scientist's accomplishments

According to my brief data, one can name Hawking's four outstanding discoveries.

Firstly, together with mathematician from the University of Oxford Roger Penrose, he told about the existence of the Big Bang. The theory says all began with a singularity.

Secondly, he characterised black holes: losing their mass, they generate huge energy that later was called Hawking radiation. Hawking discovered this action of the quantum effect on the horizon of a black hole.

Thirdly, he forecasted the existence of mini-black holes at the very beginning of the Big Bang. In his opinion, these black holes threw a mass of energy to the initial Universe by completing their existence with an explosion of huge energy that spread to all over the world.

Fourthly, Professor Hawking initially said that being absorbed into the black hole, particles of light seemed to lose information and existence. He expressed such a presupposition in the early 1980s. And he supposed that information and all particles that were in a black hole were lost for the Universe. But later American scientists said such information could be conserved within the black hole itself too, which can be found out one day.

He wrote numerous books, including his biography My Experience of Having ALS. As far as we know, he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) he had been living with for more than 50 years. He lived and made surprising miracles without moving at all. But probably his most famous book is A Brief History of Time. It was published in 1988. 10 million copies were printed and sold. Several editions also came to light in Russia, including in 2001.

Probably his most famous book is A Brief History of Time. It was published in 1988. 10 million copies were printed and sold. Photo: bookscomefirst.com

In one place with Einstein

In 2005, I was in the National Portrait Gallery in London. What I remembered is an exceptionally interesting portrait of Hawking in dark brown tones.

What's more, in the British capital, I visited the famous Royal Albert Hall. One of the guides said to me that the two biggest physicists, scientists gave a speech in this hall. I supposed Albert Einstein was probably the first of them. Exactly, Einstein read a lecture in remote 1933. 62 years later, in 1995, Hawking gave a lecture in the same hall. It seemed the places aren't connected, but Hawking is everywhere…

He loved life. He was married twice. He had three children. It's what makes him completely different from his great predecessor Isaac Newton to a certain degree who lived for more than 80 years. But Newton was never married and was sceptical about the fine sex.

He had been almost annually giving an interview to BBC for 40 years. It wasn't easy to get such an opportunity. The organisation's correspondent who had a chance to interview him several times says he always treated Hawking with a tremble and was absorbed by the process when staying in London. In his first interview in 1997, he writes he was so excited about how to ask, what to ask and record. But as soon as he entered the room, he calmed down after seeing a smile on his face.

There were many different people around the physicist, including top public activists. Bill Clinton talked with him in the late 1990s. Barack Obama also visited him in 2005. Many people tried to talk with him or at least put in an appearance.

There were many different people around the physicist, including top public activists. Bill Clinton talked with him in the late 1990s. Barack Obama also visited him in 2005. Photo: flickr.com/photos/obamawhitehouse

I know that he loved Mozart's Requiem very much, he liked flowers. He also was in our country. For instance, he visited the Hermitage in Leningrad. Moreover, he wanted to feel gravity too. And it was organised – in a plane at a big height for several minutes.

Hawking was a famous pacifist, which unites him with Einstein. He told many times he was against military interventions, the proliferation of nuclear weapon.

His contribution to science was endless as well as the Universe he studied during a half-century-old activity. He had many international prestigious awards. Several years ago, journalist Andrey Vaganov and I expressed an opinion in one of the articles that Stephen Hawking deserved a Nobel Prize in two nominations – space research and medicine. The person could work and create such masterpieces for science in such a state, without moving. Unfortunately, he didn't get this award.

By Yulduz Khaliullin