Stephen Hawking was probably the most renowned scientist of our generation. He was one of the rare scientists that made us see the world through different perspectives with his work. However, there was more to Professor Hawking than his motor neuron disease and theories. Even if you are well versed in his works, there are several interesting facts that you might not be aware of.
From being a slacker in childhood to writing children’s books, we have managed to compile a list of some lesser known facts about this incredible man.
1. Stephen Hawking’s birth-date coincides with the death anniversary of Galileo Galilei, while his death anniversary coincides with Albert Einstein’s birthday!
The genius was born on the 8 January, 1942, precisely 300 years after Galileo, the famous Italian scientist, died. Galileo played a pivotal role in the scientific revolution during an era when natural philosophy dominated. He specialized in mathematics, philosophy, science, and astronomy.
If this coincidence was not eerie enough to you, Hawking also happened to die on the 14 March 2018, the same date when Albert Einstein was born (14 March 1879). Do we even need to talk about Einstein? Not only that, 14 March is also celebrated as the Pi day for the mathematical constant pi (Greek letter “π”).(source)
2. Hawking could not read properly until he was eight. He barely averaged one hour a day of work and was a slacker in school until he contracted a motor neuron disease.
One would expect geniuses in life to be topping in their academics by quite some margin, but not so in the case of the beloved Stephen Hawking. He claims that he had not learned to read properly until age eight, while his “brighter” sister Philippa could read by the time she was four. His peers gave him the nickname “Einstein,” so people definitely saw something special in him, regardless.
Later on, when Hawking joined Oxford University, his academics were only slightly above average. His father was discontent with Hawking’s efforts which the latter acknowledged. He averaged a meager one hour of study time per day, and he was lazy and a slacker. Of course, it all changed in the later course of his life.(source)
3. Hawking’s father, a prominent medical researcher, wanted him to follow in his footsteps and study medicine. However, Hawking took no interest in biology and medicine and labeled them as “inexact” and “too vague.”
Stephen had always been interested in studying mathematics and physics. Oxford University did not offer a major in mathematics that time, so he chose to pursue physics. This was despite his father, a researcher of tropical medicine, urging him to study medicine. As quoted from the man himself, “I felt that medicine was too vague and inexact, so I chose physics.”
Later on, he pursued his graduation at Cambridge. This was an important point in his life, as he was introduced to cosmology formally. Cosmology soon became his focus area of study.(source)
4. Hawking loved to dance, and was a member of the Oxford University’s rowing team. He was a coxswain on the rowing team.
A young Stephen Hawking felt lonely and isolated during his first year at Oxford University. He found the academic work “too easy” and was not motivated to put in the efforts. As a self-conscious man, he decided to change his ways the following year.
He became far more social and interactive and participated in various events in the University including dancing and rowing. Stephen was a coxswain on his rowing team. His rowing peers considered Hawking as the “adventurous type” as he used to steer the boats through some very narrow gaps to explore the less-traveled areas which caused damage to the boats.(source)
5. The Pope did not support Hawking’s works and even tried discouraging him from exploring the origin of the universe.
During one of his lectures at Hong Kong University, Professor Hawking stated that Pope John Paul II had once attempted to dissuade him, along with other scientists, from attending a Vatican press conference. The conference was based on cosmology and the origin of the universe. The Pope’s belief was that the universe’s origin was the work of God and that one can study the Universe, but its origin should not be a subject of exploration.
Hawking had always been dismissive of religion publicly, and was once quoted saying, “Religion believes in miracles, but they are not compatible with science.”(source)
6. Stephen Hawking was a British native but spoke with an American accent thanks to his computerized voice synthesizer.
Stephen Hawking was born and raised in Oxford, England. Many people, however, have been confused with his birth origin because of his accent. Ever since Hawking lost his speech to motor neuron disease, he has been using an Intel computer-generated voice which has only one accent – American. Hawking has said that he actually prefers the American accent to his native British. And so, he chose to continue with the voice ever since.
In fact, when Hawking met the Queen of Edinburgh at St. James Palace during a charity function, the latter was quoted as asking, “Have you still got that American voice?” to which Hawking gave a witty reply, “Yes, it is copyrighted, actually.”(source)
7. Stephen Hawking contracted pneumonia at 43. His doctors concluded that the prognosis was critical enough to consider turning off his life support with his first wife’s approval. She refused, and Hawking went on to live another 33 years.
Stephen Hawking’s speech slur began at the age of 22 when he contracted the most common form of motor neuron disease — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that Hawking defied. Usually, the contractors of this disease can only go on for a couple more years.
By the time he was in his thirties, his speech deteriorated to the extent that only his close friends could recognize it.
When he turned 43, he suffered from pneumonia and the condition was so discouraging that the doctors considered turning off his life support. His then-wife, however, refused to give up on his life. Hawking’s work A Brief History of Time, was unfinished business that time. However, the doctors were left with no option but to carry out a tracheotomy to allow him to breathe. The operation involved an incision into the trachea which led to a permanent loss of whatever speech he had left.(source)
8. Stephen Hawking was a good sport and did not go into hiding when he was wrong. He admitted losing a bet on black holes to John Preskill, a notable theoretical physicist.
Hawking was known for having made many scientific bets throughout his life. He lost his fair share and was very vocal about admitting being wrong. One of such bets was a very interesting one. Hawking and Kip Thorne made a public bet on paper with John Preskill on whether information could be lost in a black hole if the latter were to disappear.
It was a bet among three very prominent physicists of the generation, and the claim, that information was lost in a black hole, made by Hawking and Kip posed a very serious violation to the quantum mechanics. While Hawking had accepted defeat in this bet, Kip remains unconvinced and has not yet given up yet.(source)
9. Hawking believed that aliens exist and that UFOs could visit Earth one day and possibly raid too.
In the later years of his life, Hawking has consistently talked about the possibility of extraterrestrial existence and moreover, the dangers of communication with the aliens. He used the analogy of Columbus discovering America to explain the potential threat of alien civilizations should they be advanced enough to visit Earth.
His recommended methodology for discovering alien civilizations was to keep gathering intel and stay quiet. If we were to not keep quiet and try to communicate with the extraterrestrials, the latter could be hostile enough to raid and colonize Earth, and it is a possibility for them to be sufficiently advanced to conquer Earth.(source)
10. Hawking was multi-talented. He made appearances in numerous sitcoms, animated, and non-fictional shows. This made him the most well-known scientist in popular culture. He even wrote a popular children’s book, George’s Secret Key to the Universe.
Stephen Hawking may be famous for his scientific theories, research, and his battle against ACL, but he achieved success in some other fields too. He made cameos in several sitcoms such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Big Bang Theory, and Red Nose Day 2015. In cartoon form, he made several guest appearances in the famous The Simpsons, in Futurama, and The Fairly OddParents. He appeared in several Discover Channel shows and commercials.
Not only that, he wrote a science book for children, George’s Secret Key to the Universe, an instant success that went on to spawn four sequels.(source)
11. Stephen Hawking once held a champagne party in his room but publicized it after the event. He hoped that time-travelers would know and attend his party, but nobody turned up.
Hawking tried this funny, yet strange experiment to show that time travel is not possible and, in fact, used its result as the evidence. Hawking said that he waited in his room during his own party, all alone, for a long time.
He got the occasion filmed too and later uploaded it to YouTube. The video shows Professor Hawking waiting, lonely and surrounded by champagne and balloons. An invitation letter was held out showing the time and exact location by latitude and longitude of the party. A banner in the room read “Welcome Time Travellers.”(source)