In conjunction with the upcoming release of the Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything”, we’ve shortlisted a few interesting facts you probably didn’t know about him. With the help of some research, of course. From the day he was born till the day he received his first award, here are some important things you need to know about the most brilliant and celebrated physicist of our time.
1. A yet-to-be-known genius is born
Stephen Hawking was born on 8th January 1944 aka the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death. Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher, also known as “the Father of Modern Science”. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and groundbreaking astronomical observations. Little did everyone know, Stephen would later go on to achieve great scientific things too.
2. A hard knock life in Hertfordshire
Despite financial constraints, both his parents attended the University of Oxford. His father, Frank, studied medicine and his mother, Isobel, studied philosophy, politics, and economics. Stephen has 2 younger sisters Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward. His family was considered highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric; meals were often spent with each person silently reading a book. They all lived in a frugal life in a large and poorly maintained house and often travelled in a converted London taxicab.
3. Stephen the school slacker
At 8 years old, he attended St Albans High School for Girls for a few months; at that time, younger boys could attend one of the houses. He officially began schooling at Byron House School but he failed to learn to read and write while he was there. When he was 9 years old, his grades ranked among the worst in his class and it wasn’t because he was unintelligent – it was because he was simply quite a slacker. He later put more effort in his studies and brought his grades up. But only to about average.
4. Discovering a hidden brilliance
The bright side was that Stephen showed interest in how stuff worked from an early age. He often disassembled clocks and radios although he’d break them in the process because he wasn’t good at putting them back together so they could work again. His curiosity and independence in studying these things gave his teachers and his peers the impression that they had a future genius among them. They nicknamed him, “Einstein”.
5. The start of his Oxford education
Stephen managed to get into Oxford university on a scholarship when he aced the exams, with an almost perfect score in physics. His father had hoped that he would study medicine but Stephen had different ideas – he took on physics and chemistry instead. For the first 18 months of his Oxford university education, he was bored and lonely because he found the academic work “ridiculously easy”.
6. Curbing loneliness (due to being too smart)
In his isolation and boredom, he decided to join the university’s rowing team. However, he didn’t have what one would call a large or athletic build so he was a coxswain – a position that does not row, but rather controls steering and stroke rate. It was during his time in rowing that the first signs of his motor neurone disease showed – he became increasingly clumsy and had difficulty rowing.
7. Finding Jane and finding out about his disease
All at the same time, his relationship with Jane Wilde, a friend of his sister, blossomed. This happened shortly before his was properly diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). By October 1964, the couple were engaged. He later said that it gave him something to live for and despite the disease’s progression, he could return to his work with enthusiasm. They went on to have 3 children, Robert, Lucy, and Timothy.
8. Beating the odds in true Stephen style
When Stephen was properly diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the doctor gave him a life expectancy of 2 years. That was when he was 21 years old. Stephen Hawking is 72 years old this year. He basically “outlived” his doctor’s prediction by 51 whole years. In those 51 years, he received many notable accolades for his groundbreaking studies and work.
9. Regaining his voice after a near death experience
In 1985, he contracted life-threatening pneumonia. He was so ill that Jane was asked if his life support should be terminated. She refused. Stephen got a tracheotomy instead, which required round-the-clock nursing care and removed his speech. During recovery, he initially raised his eyebrows to choose letters on a spelling card to communicate. He later received a computer program called the “Equalizer” in which he uses a switch to select phrases, words, or letters from a bank of about 2,500 – 3,000. The voice has an American accent.
10. Awards and accolades aplenty
Despite being the world’s most successful physicist with remarkable distinctions such as being the first to theoretically predict that black holes emit radiation, Stephen Hawking has not yet been awarded a Nobel Prize. He did, however, receive these awards:
- PhD (1966)
- Adams Prize (1966)
- FRS (1974)
- Eddington Medal (1975)
- Heineman Prize (1976)
- Hughes Medal (1976)
- Albert Einstein Award (1978)
- CBE (1982)
- RAS Gold Medal (1985)
- Paul Dirac Medal (1987)
- Wolf Prize (1988)
- CH (1989)
- Prince of Asturias Award (1989)
- Lilienfeld Prize (1999)
- Albert Medal (Royal Society of Arts) (1999)
- Copley Medal (2006)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009)
- Fundamental Physics Prize (2012)
“The Theory of Everything” is not the first screen adaption of Stephen Hawking’s life or achievements. In the past, there has been several documentary films and TV series about him, one of which was called, “Hawking“, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch. Writer Anthony McCarten started working on the “The Theory of Everything” project as far back as a decade ago.
Filming only began in Cambridge in September 2013.
The film stars Eddie Redmayne (of “Les Miserables” fame) as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones (of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” fame) as Jane Wilde.
Watch the trailer here:
“The Theory of Everything” is slated for a 8th January 2015 release.