Calling for the Death of Physics

Throughout the mid-1990s, some of Hawking's focus shifted to the investigation of the Einstein-Rosen bridge, also known as worm-holes or tunnels through space-time, and the question of whether time travel is possible. The prospect of time travel intrigued Kip Thorn, a theorist at Caltech (California Institute of Technology), as well as other eminent scientists. Thorn and his colleagues showed that general relativity allows for the possibility of a particular type of wormhole to exist as a cosmic connection between two black holes. Thus, it appears to be mathematically feasible for matter to travel through a wormhole (when the tunnel is momentarily open) and potentially arrive at the other end in another part of the universe. In other words, Thorne put forth that no evidence exists that specifically forbids the possibility of time travel. Hawking used an obvious question to argue against the reality of time travel by asking that, if it were indeed possible, why were future time travelers not here today educating us about it?

In 1996, Hawking published The Illustrated Brief History of Time, a very different book compared to his 1988 work of similar title, with the addition of more than 240 color illustrations and images. One completely new chapter discusses wormholes and possible resolutions to the classic paradoxes surrounding time travel.

His latest book, called The Universe in a Nutshell, was published in 2001. Hawking designed this cosmology book so that readers could go to any chapter of their choice, after fully reading chapters one and two, and comprehend a chosen topic without having to wade through successive chapters that might not be of immediate interest.

Although he is a devoted family man, research continues to dominate Hawking's life, and he enjoys placing wagers on the outcome of current cosmological research. For example, in 1997 Hawking and Thorne joined forces and wagered against Caltech theorist John Preskill that black holes cannot emit data, only thermal radiation, which contains no data. Preskill argued that black holes could indeed emit data, and the race for an answer was on. Upon the resolution to the problem, the winner was to provide the loser with an encyclopedia of their choice. In 2004, during the International Conference on General Relativity in Dublin, Ireland, Hawking conceded defeat by stating he found that black holes do indeed emit data, not just heat. He explained that when performing a path integral on a black hole of a particular shape, data is not lost but is instead allowed to escape through an "apparent" horizon, which is present due to the improper formation of a true event horizon. Though Hawking lost the bet, his work was another step toward a unified theory.

A life dedicated to science is not an easy one, especially when faced with above-average challenges such as those faced by Stephen Hawking. Ironically, Hawking claims that because of his disability he has perhaps been allowed far greater time to think than other scientists. The quest for answers about the creation of the universe has been the motivation in Hawking's career and is perhaps responsible for his surviving decades beyond the life expectancy given him by his doctors. He has dedicated his talents toward uncovering a scientific theory that can explain everything about the cosmos, and he continues to be a part of new theories and discoveries. By merging quantum mechanics and general relativity, Hawking is calling for the death of classical physics in favor of a unified quantum theory of gravity with the goal of producing solid evidence on how the universe began. Few people fully understand the complexities of Hawking's work, yet he has succeeded in describing the otherwise indescribable to millions, in itself a major accomplishment. Due to his scientific achievements and literary contributions, a diverse numbers of people now hope that someday, whether through Hawking or other future pioneers in science, the secrets of the universe can be unmistakably clear.


1942 Stephen William Hawking is born on January 8 in Oxford, England

1952 Begins private school at St. Albans and realizes his talent for logic and mathematics

170 Space and Astronomy 1959 Receives a scholarship to University College, Oxford


Earns a bachelor's degree in physics from Oxford; enters Cambridge University to study cosmology


Diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a motor neuron disease


Earns a doctorate in theoretical physics; awarded a research fellowship from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge; marries Jane Wilde


Writes an essay called "Singularities and the Geometry of Spacetime," which earns him the Adams Prize in mathematics


Publishes "The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology" with Roger Penrose, proving that the big bang contained a singularity


Joins the mathematics and theoretical physics department at Cambridge University; applies theories from general relativity, quantum physics, and thermodynamics to prove for the first time that black holes emit radiation


Becomes a fellow of th Royal Society of London


Earns six awards: the Eddington Medal, the Pius XI Medal, the William Hopkins Prize, the Dannie Heinemann Prize, the Maxwell Prize, and the Hughes Medal


Cambridge University creates a special chair of gravitational physics exclusively for Hawking


The first image of a possible black hole, called Cygnus X-1, is taken by HEAO-2 (High Energy Astronomy Observatory), the world's first X-ray space telescope. Hawking receives the Albert Einstein Award for his work toward unifying physics.


Appointed Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University


Publishes, with Martin Rocek, Superspace and Supergravity, a book that deals with cosmology; receives the royal CBE (Commander of the British Empire) award


Publishes, with Gary W. Gibbons and T.C. Silkos, The Very Early Universe, describing the big bang theory in complex terms


Contracts pneumonia while visiting CERN (Centre Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire/European Organization for Nuclear Research), a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, resulting in the permanent loss of his voice


Publishes the book for which he is most famous, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, intended for the average reader interested in cosmology


Made a Companion of Honor by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II


Hollywood releases a documentary about Hawking's life, A Brief History of Time. He separates from his wife, Jane.


Elected to the National Academy of Sciences


Publishes a collection of essays entitled Black Holes and Baby Universes, containing astrophysical and autobiographical material


Marries Elaine Mason


Publishes The Illustrated Brief History of Time, in which he discusses time travel


Publishes The Universe in a Nutshell, describing the concepts behind the theories of the birth and life of the universe


Admits defeat over a bet made with Kip Thorne against John Preskill by showing that black holes do in fact emit data

Boslough, John. Stephen Hawking's Universe. New York: Avon Books, 1989. A good book for the scientific layperson that discusses the big bang theory, pulsars, quasars, and black holes.

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time: The Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition. New York: Bantam, 1998. Explores theories of the cosmos; updated and illustrated to embrace advances in research, including a new introduction and new chapters on wormholes and time travel.

-. Black Holes and Baby Universes. New York: Bantam, 1993. A

collection of essays with topics ranging from autobiographical information to the concept of imaginary time. A good companion to Hawking's A Brief History of Time.

-. The Universe in a Nutshell. New York: Bantam, 2001.

Written as a companion to A Brief History of Time, this book guides the reader on a space-time journey when the universe begins as a cosmic seed.

Wald, Robert M. Space, Time, and Gravity: The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. Written for the layperson, this work addresses the physics of cosmology and black holes.

Weinberg, Steven. The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origins of the Universe. New York: Bantam, 1979. Classic description of the early stages of the big bang theory and the highly dense state in which the universe began.

White, Michael, and John Gribbin. Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2002. An excellent look at Stephen Hawking's personal and professional life written in compelling style.

Web Sites

Plus Magazine. "Stephen Hawking's 60 Years in a Nutshell." Hawking, Stephen. Available online. URL: issue18/features/hawking. Accessed November 29, 2004. An article originally presented as a lecture by Hawking at the Center for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge, England.

Stephen Hawking Official Web Site. Available online. URL: Accessed November 29, 2004. The World Wide Web home page of Professor Stephen Hawking with information on his life, disability and current health, lectures, news, a glossary of terms, and how to contact him.

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