One of the leading figures in modern cosmology is Dr. Stephen William Hawking. He was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. His parents' house was actually located in north London, but Oxford was considered a safer place to have babies during World War II. At the age of 8, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London. At age 11, he went to St Albans School, and then on to University College, Oxford. Stephen's father wanted him to study medicine, but he was more interested in mathematics. Since mathematics was not available at University College, he studied physics instead. After three years he received a first class honors degree in Natural Science.
Stephen later went on to Cambridge University to do research in Cosmology. After gaining his Ph.D. he became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973 he came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. He has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics since 1979. This chair was founded in 1663 with money left in the will of the Reverend Henry Lucas, who had been the Member of Parliament for the University. It was first held by Isaac Barrow, and then by Sir Isaac Newton in 1663.
While studying physics and mathematics at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Hawking learned that he had the degenerative disorder of the nervous system known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was only given 2 1/2 years to live beyond 1966. Dr. Hawking has beaten those odds and revolutionized modern science and astronomy. Due to his affliction with Lou Gehrig's disease he is confined to a wheelchair and is unable to speak without the aid of a computer voice synthesizer.
Hawking has devoted much of his life to probing the space-time described by general relativity and the singularities where it breaks down. In the late 1960s, he proved that if general relativity is true and the universe is expanding, a singularity must have occurred at the birth of the universe. In 1974 he first recognized a truly remarkable property of black holes, objects from which nothing was supposed to be able to escape. By taking into account quantum mechanics, he was able to show that black holes can radiate energy as particles are created in their vicinity. But perhaps his most impressive feat was writing the international bestseller A Brief History of Time. This book spent more than four years on the London Sunday Times bestseller list, longer than any other book in history. His other publications include The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G. F. R. Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W. Israel, and 300 Years of Gravity, with W. Israel, and his later book, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.
Professor Hawking has twelve honorary degrees, was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honor in 1989. He is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes and is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences. He continues to combine family life with his three children and one grandchild, and his research into theoretical physics together with an extensive program of travel and public lectures. He has even appeared as a guest on an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation.