Physicist Stephen Hawking has died

World renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astronomer and mathematician has passed away at age 76.

Posted: Mar 15, 2018 8:21 AM
Updated: Mar 15, 2018 8:23 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.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 601937

Reported Deaths: 9593
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion831111322
Lake44972678
Allen32498545
Hamilton29039315
St. Joseph27133380
Elkhart24291343
Vanderburgh19160246
Tippecanoe17799130
Johnson14871292
Porter14631167
Hendricks14188247
Madison10851219
Vigo10636178
Clark10520137
Monroe9299110
Delaware9055134
LaPorte8972160
Howard8134142
Kosciusko800382
Warrick665197
Hancock6575103
Bartholomew637999
Floyd6322109
Wayne6076161
Grant5937113
Dubois552578
Boone544967
Morgan530594
Henry503464
Marshall499884
Cass478663
Dearborn470745
Noble468357
Jackson420747
Shelby410781
Lawrence387478
Clinton370642
Gibson365559
DeKalb344264
Montgomery340754
Harrison340544
Knox333139
Miami317344
Steuben311545
Whitley301725
Wabash299747
Adams299035
Ripley296545
Putnam292049
Huntington288659
Jasper287634
White270340
Daviess266073
Jefferson257938
Fayette245148
Decatur244883
Greene238162
Posey236927
Wells233350
LaGrange226361
Scott221838
Clay220932
Randolph212148
Jennings195836
Sullivan190833
Spencer188019
Fountain182127
Washington182022
Starke174443
Jay166322
Owen162837
Fulton162330
Orange156333
Carroll155415
Rush153318
Perry151227
Vermillion147334
Franklin146933
Tipton130932
Parke13018
Pike115626
Blackford110522
Pulaski96137
Newton90521
Brown86833
Benton85910
Crawford7839
Martin72313
Warren6757
Switzerland6455
Union6227
Ohio4787
Unassigned0375

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 849704

Reported Deaths: 10518
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin100046706
Cuyahoga845231068
Hamilton63092447
Montgomery42660405
Summit34405754
Lucas31041611
Butler30546229
Stark25443429
Warren19436140
Lorain18767223
Mahoning17163337
Lake15882153
Clermont15697110
Delaware1422678
Licking13067137
Trumbull12680313
Fairfield1262180
Greene11915136
Medina11439167
Clark10802265
Wood10230158
Allen9774126
Portage9163107
Miami907373
Richland9035117
Marion7420113
Tuscarawas7280179
Columbiana7263124
Pickaway719550
Wayne6954169
Muskingum690741
Erie6090127
Hancock547590
Ross543487
Scioto533664
Geauga501155
Darke465591
Ashtabula449373
Lawrence447053
Union444928
Sandusky433062
Mercer432088
Huron423541
Seneca423465
Auglaize419662
Shelby419421
Jefferson415469
Belmont411240
Washington383340
Athens37379
Putnam372674
Madison349929
Knox347922
Ashland342538
Fulton335243
Defiance327782
Crawford319472
Preble318437
Brown307121
Logan304132
Ottawa289243
Clinton286643
Williams275866
Highland271818
Jackson261345
Guernsey249825
Champaign249328
Fayette234429
Morrow23014
Perry228318
Holmes222864
Henry216849
Hardin210133
Coshocton203521
Van Wert200545
Gallia194726
Wyandot193851
Pike172417
Adams172015
Hocking169824
Carroll153216
Paulding143221
Noble119940
Meigs106823
Monroe100331
Harrison87821
Morgan82229
Vinton68913
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
20° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 9°
Angola
Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 26° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 7°
Huntington
Cloudy
17° wxIcon
Hi: 28° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 17°
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
20° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 8°
Lima
Cloudy
20° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 7°
More Sunshine Saturday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events