Stephen Hawking: science icon now among the stars

Mar 21st, 2018 | By | Category: 2017-2018, Lifestyles

By Madelyn Jones
Lifestyles Editor

On March 14, the world wept with the news that renowned scientist, Stephen Hawking, passed at the age of 76. With those years devoted to science and discovery, he asked big questions about the universe and took a lead role in important research.

There were two sides of him that were influential and respected in their own right: him as an academic and as a public personality.

In his lifetime, he wrote and co-authored numerous books that took on many difficult, complex and existential topics, including “A Brief History of Time,” “The Grand Design” and “The Universe in a Nutshell.” He also was a major part in ground-breaking research on singularities and black holes, among other subjects. He was one of the biggest names in science, even a household name, and this glimpse of his career shows why.

With his passing, the scientific community grieved the loss of a brilliant mind. Colleague Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter to commemorate Hawking, saying, “His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure.”

However, the feeling of loss has not only permeated the scientific community, but members of every generation, regardless of academic interest. Many people of different backgrounds and ages have also been expressing their sorrow on social media. A couple of his quotes have been circulating, including, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.”

Figures like Barack Obama have also tweeted to celebrate him, saying, “Have fun out there among the stars,” along with a picture of the two of them.

It is rare for a modern academic to be so widely known and respected. He was not only into a scholar, but a public personality. This could be why sadness over his death has been so pervasive. He is not seen as an untouchable scholar, but someone who has endearing and funny quotes, advice on life and has taken youth seriously.

Therefore, not only is his brilliant and scientific mind being mourned, but his character and insight. A moment that exemplifies this was his response to a teenage girl who was in attendance at one of his talks at the Sydney Opera House. She asked, “What do you think is the cosmological effect of Zayn leaving One Direction and consequently breaking the hearts of millions of teenage girls across the world?” as Buzzfeed Australia reported.

“Finally, a question about something important. My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. Because one day there may well be proof of multiple universes. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction. This girl may like to know that in another possible universe, she and Zayn are happily married,” he responded.

He did not brush aside this questions like others may have, but responded to it thoughtfully and with care to the asker. It may be responses and actions like this that has made this man who studies such complex topics feel relatable and like a role model for people outside of the sciences as well.

It was potentially Lockheed Martin’s tweet that encompassed both sides of Hawking as a public figure the best. They celebrated both his breakthrough research and beloved personality: “Thank you, Stephen Hawking, for helping us understand the universe and for your indomitable spirit. You’ve left us in awe of your accomplishments and with great hope for humanity. We’ll always remember to look up at the stars and not down at our feet.”

Hawking will stand as an important figure and his research will continue to be studied and revered for a very long time. The impact of his work is proven not for the first time, by the outpour of emotion at his loss.

If you want to carry on his legacy, or hear some words of advice from this widely successful man, I leave you with this quote: “One, remember to look up at the stars and now down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” Stay curious, keep pursuing your goals and hold the love in your life dearly to commemorate this ever inspiring man.

 

mgjones@willamette.edu

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