Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in astrophysics. Everyone knows his name, but much of his biography is still not well-known.
This list of Stephen Hawking facts will make you realize Stephen Hawking is not only brilliant, but funny and self-aware. By the time you finish reading it, you’ll be even more amazed by both his mental and physical accomplishments.
He Was Born on the 300th Anniversary of Galileo’s Death
Stephen Hawking’s birthday is January 8, 1944. That’s exactly 300 years
after Galileo’s death. It’s a delightful coincidence, given that Galileo was a revolutionary astronomer in his own time, and Stephen Hawking would go on to be a revolutionary astrophysicist.
Both of His Parents Went to Oxford
It’s not terribly surprising that brilliant parents gave birth to a brilliant child. Stephen Hawking’s father, Frank,studied medicine
at Oxford, and his mother, Isobel, studied philosophy, politics, and economics.
He Got Mediocre Grades in School
When Stephen was growing up, his grades were never above average
. This was not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather a lack of effort. He devoted his time to other things, like taking apart radios to see how they worked.
His Teachers Nicknamed Him “Einstein”
Despite his mediocre grades, Stephen’s teachers and peers knew that he was incredibly smart. As a teenager, he and his friends built a computer from scratch. His teachers, in a somewhat prophetic way, nicknamed him Einstein
His Whole Family Was Smart… and Weird
The whole Hawking family – Stephen, his parents, and his siblings – were highly intelligent
, but also quite eccentric. They often ate their meals in silence, with each person reading his or her own book.
His Father Wanted Him to Study Medicine
Frank Hawking wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and study medicine at Oxford. Stephen, however, did not like biology. He said it was, “too inexact, too descriptive.”
He Wanted to Major in Math
Instead of medicine, Stephen wanted to study mathematics
. He took to math because the concepts were so precise and well-defined. The problem was that Oxford, where his father wanted him to study, did not have a math major. Stephen and his father compromised, and Stephen agreed to attend Oxford and study physics.
He Grew Up Poor
His family wasn’t penniless, but they did live a frugal life. His parents could not afford to pay Oxford tuition, so the only way Stephen could attend was if he got a scholarship. Sure enough, he received one when he aced the entrance exams – he got almost a perfect score in physics.
He Was on the Rowing Team at Oxford
Stephen Hawking joined the rowing team
to break out of the isolation he experienced at Oxford. Because he was not particularly athletic, he served as coxswain, a team member who does not row, but instead controls the stroke and the steering.
He Wasn’t Supposed to Live Past His Mid-Twenties
When he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, doctors told him he had only two more years to live. He died at 76 years old, surpassing expectations by over half a century.
His Wife Saved His Life When He Was 41
Stephen Hawking contracted pneumonia
in 1985. The pneumonia was so crippling that doctors asked his wife, Jane, if she would consider taking her husband off life support. Jane refused to pull the plug, and doctors performed a tracheotomy to save Stephen’s life. This is how he lost his ability to speak.
He Could Have Changed His Voice, but Didn’t
Ever since his pneumonia in 1985, Stephen Hawking has communicated using a word synthesizer. He recently had Intel improve
the device, but he was adamant about not changing its robotic, American-accented voice. He considers this recognizable tone a vital part of his identity.
He Co-Authored the Boundless Universe Theory
You’ve probably heard of the boundless universe theory
. It’s just what it sounds like: the idea that the universe has no boundaries. Stephen Hawking helped create this theory with another physicist, Jim Hartle, in 1983.
He Once Lost a Bet About Black Holes
Stephen Hawking made a bet
with another scientist, Jim Preskill, in 1997. The science
is difficult to explain, but basically Stephen Hawking thought that information is lost in black holes, while Preskill believed that information could escape from them. Hawking admitted he was wrong in 2004.
He Had the Same Job as Isaac Newton
It’s not surprising that Stephen Hawking has earned numerous honors and distinctions over his lifetime, but perhaps the most interesting one is his position as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. This position
has existed ever since 1663, and the second person to hold it was Sir Isaac Newton.
He Wrote a Children’s Book Trilogy
In 2007, Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy started writing a trilogy of children’s books
about a character named George. The books explain concepts like black holes and the origin of life in ways that children can understand them. The three books are George’s Secret Key to the Universe
, George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt
, and George and The Big Bang
He Believes in Aliens
In 2008, at the 50th anniversary celebration of NASA, Stephen Hawking said it’s very possible that there could be intelligent life
on other planets. He also explored this possibility on an episode of “Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking,” on the Discovery Channel.
He’s the First Quadriplegic to Experience Zero Gravity
In 2007, Stephen Hawking took a flight with Zero Gravity Corp
. The company flies an airplane at a sharp ascent and then a sharp descent, so that the passengers experience weightlessness. With the help of the flight crew, Stephen Hawking floated out of his wheel chair and was able to do flips through the air.
He Thinks Space Travel Is Crucial for Our Survival
One of the reasons Stephen Hawking took the zero-gravity flight was because he thinks space travel is going to become necessary
for the survival of the human race, because of the damage that global warming is doing to our planet. He believes we may have to travel to other planets and use their resources to survive.
He Appeared on Star Trek
Stephen Hawking has a wicked sense of humor. He played himself
on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation
in 1993, telling jokes while playing poker with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.
He Was Played by Benedict Cumberbatch
Before Benedict Cumberbatch hit it big with his role as Sherlock Holmes, he played Stephen Hawking inHawking
, a 2004 BBC television film
about Stephen Hawking’s time as a PhD student at Cambridge. This was the first ever portrayal of Hawking on screen.
He Was Working on a Mission To Alpha Centauri
Stephen Hawking was one of three members of the board of directors (along with Mark Zuckerburg and Russian philanthropist Yuri Milner) for an ambitious mission to send a fleet of robot space crafts to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. The space crafts apparently would be no bigger than iPhones, and there would be thousands of them. The logic is: If a few break on the way, there are many more to replace them.