How much is Stephen Hawking worth

Obituary for Stephen Hawking's death : The all-explanation

What seems impossible doesn't have to be impossible. This is how Stephen Hawking's life could be summed up. Above all, it was his life itself that at first seemed impossible. A good 50 years ago he was diagnosed with the nerve disease ALS, the doctors only gave him a few more years at most. But Hawking just lived on. His body began to deteriorate, but his mind blossomed even more. He revolutionized astrophysics with his theories on black holes. His popular science books such as “A Brief History of Time” and “The Universe in a Nutshell” have sold millions of copies. He got involved in world politics and knew right up to the end how to use the sensation-hungry media apparatus for his own purposes. Now he has died at the age of 76.

Hawking was a pop star. He was the only physicist who came close to Albert Einstein in his popularity - and he saw himself in this line. A large part of his fame certainly has nothing to do with the formulas he developed as a theoretical physicist, but with his struggle over a body that barely obeyed him - and which he defeated anew every day.

He wanted to see the cards of the cosmos

The public was fascinated by Hawking: hanging in his wheelchair, leaning his head on the cushion, his face twisted into a grimace. Hardly able to move and yet able to unravel the greatest secrets of the cosmos. He dedicated himself to the big bang, the beginning of time, black holes - one size smaller, that wasn't for him.

Hawking, the son of a tropical medicin and an economist, was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford. “Exactly 300 years after Galileo's death,” as he himself liked to add. He studied physics in the venerable university town, then moved to Cambridge and did his doctorate. He turned out to be gifted, but by no means a genius. But he was ambitious. He wanted to see the cards of the cosmos. What are black holes? What happened before the big bang? How did the time start?

Then the shock: in early 1963, shortly after his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). An incurable disease in which the nerve cells that are responsible for muscle movement die. Coordination and language disorders occur, and later the breathing muscles and the swallowing system are also impaired.

The "magician" Hawking

The diagnosis almost killed Hawking. He became depressed, heard Wagner and drank a lot of alcohol. But he recovered, found his way back to life. “During my stay in hospital,” he later reported, “I witnessed a boy whom I knew only briefly die of leukemia in the bed across the street. Since then, I've always thought of this boy when I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself. ”Hawking realized how much life was worth to him. He fell in love with the student Jane Wilde, with whom he would later have three children. And he threw himself into physics, especially Einstein's general theory of relativity - a set of formulas that brings matter, space and time together.

Hawking quickly became famous when he and Roger Penrose proved that there must be singularities in space. This is how physicists describe states in which the general laws of physics cannot apply. They are unimaginable extremes like the big bang or black holes.

"Sometimes Hawking was a magician who pulled the rabbit, the correct answer or insight, out of his hat," says the American physicist Bruce Allen from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover and Potsdam, who contributed in the early 1980s Hawking received his PhD. Researchers are still working on many of these ideas and theories. This also includes the “No boundary proposal”, the idea that the universe could have arisen spontaneously from nowhere even without the Big Bang. “That would remove the old objection that the laws of nature did not apply at the beginning of the universe. Instead, this beginning would also be subject to the laws of nature, "said Hawking when he presented the idea with his colleague Jim Hartle in 1982 as" the spontaneous quantum formation of the universe, similar to the sudden formation of gas bubbles in a saucepan of water. "

Not every theory of Hawking is proven

“It's a very nice idea that combines quantum theory and relativity,” says Jean-Luc Lehners from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, who worked in Hawking's team between 2007 and 2009. With all due respect, Lehners set about checking Hawking's ideas, which are ultimately all based on mathematical calculations. The problem with this is that the formulas have to take into account a great many different possible histories of the origins of the universe. Lehners used new mathematical methods - and came to a different result than Hawking. “In any case, it doesn't produce a universe as we know it.” Hawking himself no longer reacted to the results, but his employees did. But they could not refute Lehner's calculations. "Perhaps the idea can still be saved," said Lehners.
Even if the “No boundary proposal” should not be confirmed, Hawking was creative enough to keep the minds of many generations of physicists occupied with his ideas. This also includes the fact that black holes could not be quite as black as initially assumed - that they do not swallow everything forever, but rather emit rays, now known as Hawking rays. "In doing so, he linked quantum physics with Einstein's theory of relativity, that was revolutionary knowledge," says Bernard Schutz. The former director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam was part of Hawking's team at the time.
The existence of Hawking radiation has not yet been proven; according to the calculations, it is far too weak for that. “Paradoxically, in the case of very small black holes - the size of an atom - it should be stronger and easier to measure,” says Lehners.

There was never a Nobel Prize for him

Physicists, such as Jeff Steinhauer at the Technion in Haifa, are currently trying to investigate systems that come close to the conditions in black holes. Steinhauer cooled helium down to almost absolute zero and then very suddenly tore the center of the helium bubble. He simulated the “event horizon” at which matter or rays of light can no longer escape the black hole. Apparently a few photons were able to escape the simulated black hole. Steinhauer sees this as evidence for the Hawking rays. "The problem is that such analog systems lack the gravitational force that is crucial for the formation of real black holes," says Lehners. In this respect, the result cannot simply be transferred.
The fact that most physicists have long believed that they exist was not enough for a Nobel Prize. According to experts, Hawking was therefore denied the greatest honor in science. This is how the gravitational physicist Schutz sees it. “But there will certainly be a Nobel Prize for the theory of black holes at some point,” he says. Lehners believes that Hawking would have been there had this evidence been given during his lifetime.

Successor to Newton's chair

Apart from that, Hawking was not lacking in awards. He was the first ever to receive the Albert Einstein Medal in 1979 and the Fundamental Physics Prize in 2013. He was appointed Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II and he took over the famous Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University, which Isaac Newton already held.

Year after year, he refuted the prognosis of his doctors, who had considered it almost impossible for Hawking to survive long. And yet the disease increasingly dominated his life. Since his hand was already paralyzed at the end of the 1960s, his doctoral thesis was written by several helpers. Soon after, he was dependent on a wheelchair. With the electrically powered model, he loved to sweep the Cambridge campus and scare the students, Schutz says. "Despite his illness, which increasingly limited him, Hawking was very friendly and cared about his employees."

The voice of his voice computer became part of himself

His ability to move and speak declined noticeably, and in the 1980s he finally lost his sense of smell and taste. When he visited the European Nuclear Research Center in Geneva in 1985, he contracted pneumonia. He got breathless and was in danger of death - a tracheotomy saved him. As a result, however, he could no longer speak. Since then I had to rely on a voice computer. The metallic rattling voice of the machine became an unmistakable part of himself. At first he controlled the device with his fingers, later with the twitching of the cheek muscle. In the end, only the eyes were mobile enough to select letters and words on the screen to be sent to the loudspeaker and reach its audience.

Despite these restrictions, he wrote several books. “A Brief History of Time”, published in 1988, was sold millions of times and was celebrated as an understandable introduction to the great questions of the universe: When did time begin? What was before the big bang? In fact, it's tough stuff Hawking puts on his readers. Some critics claim that only a small fraction of buyers really understood what is being explained between the book covers.

Books like the "Brief History of Time"

More books will follow. With his daughter Lucy he wrote the children's book “The Secret Key to the Universe” in 2007, and together with Leonard Mlodinow in 2010 “The Great Draft - A New Explanation of the Universe”, which is sometimes very speculative. And finally “My Short Story” in 2013.

In it he describes very personally how he experienced his life. How he struggled with his illness, how much it restricted him. "With my increasing disability, I was barely able to help Jane look after our baby." The first, mind you. In 1990 the marriage was divorced and his ex-wife was settling accounts with him. She sums up in her book that she had to fulfill the duties of a mother instead of being able to be a wife. And that she did not want to keep telling him "that he is not God".

A second marriage followed in 1995 with his carer Elaine Mason, but in 2006 that relationship also broke up. In a conversation with Tagesspiegel, his daughter Lucy described him as a “loving father” who patiently explained the starry sky to her.

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