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A Brief History of Steven Hawking

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A Brief History of Steven Hawking

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 to Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking. He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward. Though Hawking's parents had their home in North London, they moved to Oxford while Isobel was pregnant with Stephen since London was under attack at the time by the Luftwaffe. After Hawking was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research (White 4).

In 1950, Hawking and his family moved to St. Albans in Hertfordshire where from the age of 11 he attended St Albans School where he was a good, but lazy student (White 12). When later asked to name a teacher who had inspired him, Hawking named his Mathematics teacher, "Mr. Tahta". Over the years he has kept his connection with the school, giving his name to one of the four houses and to an extra-curricular science lecture series. He has visited to give one of the lectures and has also given a lengthy interview to pupils working on the school magazine, the Albanian (White 117).

He was always interested in science. He enrolled at University College, Oxford and planned on studying mathematics, against his father’s wishes of him going into medicine. Since mathematics was not offered at University College, Hawking chose physics instead. His interests during this time were in thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum mechanics (White 31). His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said in the New York Times Magazine, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it. ... He didn't have very many books, and he didn't take notes. Of course, his mind was completely different from all of his contemporaries" (White 149). He was passing with his fellow students, but his poor study habits gave him a final examination score on the borderline between first and second class honors, making an "oral examination" necessary. Berman said of the oral examination, "And of course the examiners then were intelligent enough to realize they were talking to someone far more clever than most of themselves" (White 155).

After receiving his B.A. degree at Oxford University in 1962, he stayed to study astronomy. He decided to leave when he found that studying sunspots, which was all the observatory could do, did not appeal to him and that he was more interested in theory than in observation. He left Oxford for Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he started in the study of theoretical astronomy and cosmology (White 167).

Almost as soon as he arrived at Cambridge, symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) started showing up, a type of motor neuron disease which would cost him the loss of practically all neuromuscular control. During his first two years at Cambridge, he did not distinguish himself, but, after the disease had stabilized and with the help of his doctoral tutor, Dennis William Sciama, he went back to working on his Ph.D. Stephen said that he did not see much point in getting a doctorate if he was going to die soon. Hawking later said that the real turning point was his 1965 marriage to Jane Wilde, a language student (White 184).

Jane Wilde, Hawking's first wife and mother of their three children, cared for him until 1991 when the couple separated, reportedly because of the pressures of fame and his growing disability. Hawking married his nurse Elaine Mason in 1995. In October 2006 Hawking filed for divorce (White 188).

In 1999, Jane Hawking published a memoir, Music to Move the Stars, detailing her own long-term relationship with a family friend whom she later married. Hawking's daughter Lucy Hawking is a novelist. Their son Robert Hawking moved to the United States, married, and has one child, George Edward Hawking. Reportedly, Hawking and his first family were reconciled in 2007 (White 202).

Hawking was elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society in 1974, was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, and became a Companion of Honor in 1989. Prof. Hawking is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (White 228).

At the celebration of his 65th birthday on January 8, 2007, Hawking announced his plans for a zero-gravity flight in 2007 to prepare for a sub-orbital spaceflight in 2009 on Virgin Galactic's space service. Billionaire Richard Branson pledged to pay all expenses for the flight, costing an estimated

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