Stephen Hawking

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April 2005
Physics Honors
Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942. He is the first child of Frank and Isabel Hawking. During the second World War, Isabel was sent from her husband's home in Highgate, to Oxford. This was considered a much safer place to have children during the war. Soon after his birth, his family moved back in together in their north London home. Hawking began his schooling here at Hertfordshire School.

Hawking moved only once during his childhood, to Saint Albans, a small town about 20 miles away from North London. His father, Frank, moved to the Institute for Medical Research in 1950. The rest of the family moved to St. Albans to make it easier to get to Mill Hill, where the Institute was located. When the family moved, Hawking began attending St. Albans High School for Girls. The school accepted boys that were ten years old or younger. When he became too old to go this school, he switched to St. Albans School. At the age of 11, his father wanted him to go to Westminster Public School. To go there, he had to take the scholarship exam. On the day of the exam, Hawking was too ill to take the exam so he stayed at St. Albans School. Hawking said that "I got an education there that was as good as, if not better than, that I would have received at Westminster."

As Hawking got older, he wanted to study mathematics. He had been inspired by his math teacher, but his father disagreed with his choice. His father persuaded him to switch his main course of study to Physics. Hawking's father had gone to University College, Oxford and wanted Hawking to go there too. At the time, math was not a course there, and Hawking's father used that as part of his argument in persuading Hawking not to take mathematics.

In March 1959, Hawking took an exam to get into University College in Oxford. He felt that he had not done well on the test, but was still awarded a scholarship to go. Once he got in, his goal was to study Natural Sciences and ended up specializing in Physics. He was awarded a first class degree in 1962. He barely made the first class degree and said it was made hard for him because "The prevailing attitude at Oxford at that was very anti-Work. You were supposed to brilliant without effort, or accept your limitations and get a fourth class degree. To work hard to get a better class of degree was regarded as the mark of a grey man - the worst epithet in the Oxford vocabulary."

After graduating from Oxford, Hawking went to Cambridge and studied general relativity and Cosmology. This was a difficult subject, especially for a person who had very little education in mathematics. Cosmology was generally related to theories on how the universe started and black holes. There had been no one working in those areas at Oxford at that time which was the reason for his switch in schools. Hawking had hoped to have Fred Hoyle as a supervisor, but got Denis Sciama instead. There, he gained his PhD at Trinity Hall in 1966 and became a Research Fellow. He eventually became a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

At the age of twenty-one, Hawking was diagnosed with the first symptoms of Motor Neuron Disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. After his first term at Cambridge, his mother persuaded him to see a doctor at the end of 1962 because he had been acting very clumsy lately. In 1963, he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with this disease after two weeks of various tests. He deteriorated quickly after this. Doctors had estimated that Hawking only had a few years left to live, but he defied their opinions and is still alive today. He is nearly fully paralyzed and uses a wheelchair with a computer system called "Clicker" He operates this by selecting word from the screen or by head and eye movements.

Starting in 1965, Hawking began doing most of his research on singularities in the general relativity theory...
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