What Discoveries Were Made by Stephen Hawking?

Updated on March 14, 2018
Stephen Hawking at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge.
Stephen Hawking at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. | Source

A Brief Overview of the Life and Times of Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, to Frank Hawking, a research scientist in the field of biology, and Isobel Hawking. When Stephen was still a toddler, the family moved from London to Oxford to avoid the blitz during the Second World War.

Stephen Hawking's first love was mathematics. Though he was an indifferent and bored student, a math teacher by the name of Dikran Tahta inspired him with a true love for higher mathematics. Many of his teachers complained that he was not involved or challenged by ordinary coursework, but those same teachers also recognized Stephen's immense talent for thinking outside the box. Mathematics gave him a medium through which to express complicated and abstract thoughts that appeared to come naturally to him. Although far from the the archetype of a perfect student, he was miles ahead of his peers in his creative way of thinking.

Hawking's father wanted him to attend University College at Oxford, but because the college had no mathematics chair or fellow, he majored in physics instead. In 1962, Hawking received a bachelor's degree from Oxford at the age of twenty. He then went to Cambridge for his graduate studies in physics. Shortly after his arrival there, he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a disease which causes the gradual deterioration of the motor neurons. Since there is no cure or treatment for ALS, most who suffer from the condition don't survive more than 10 years after being diagnosed. Despite the odds, Hawking battled the terribly debilitating illness for 56 years until his death in 2018 at age 76.

It was his marriage to Jane Wilde, a language student, that gave Hawking the impetus to continue his studies in the graduate program at Cambridge. He once said, regarding his engagement to Wilde:

"Getting engaged lifted my spirits and I realised, if we were going to get married, I had to do a job and finish my PhD. I began to work hard and I enjoyed it."

Without that motivating influence, the world might have gone without some of the terrific discoveries Hawking contributed to the field of cosmology. The original diagnosis rattled Stephen's world, causing him to question his studies, since he was expected to die so soon. However, the disease stabilized with the aid of medication, which allowed Hawking to marry and receive his PhD.

The two remained married for 25 years and had three children: Robert, Lucy and Timothy. Jane helped care for Hawking and assisted him in overcoming his illness until their divorced in 1990. Hawking then remarried, this time to his personal care assistant Elaine Mason, in 1995. They divorced after 11 years of marriage in 2006, an event which stirred up controversy when reports emerged that Elaine was abusing Hawking.

Still, Hawking always described himself as "lucky," which shows his resilience and optimistic point of view. In a speech he gave on his 70th birthday, his bright outlook shined through:

"Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet," Hawking said. "Try to make sense of what you see and about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up."

For the latter half of his life, Hawking had completely lost his powers of speech and mostly all of his motor functions. To speak, he used a voice-generating device which was built at Cambridge and relied on the vibrations of his cheek to translate his words.

Stephen Hawking and Elaine Mason on their wedding day.
Stephen Hawking and Elaine Mason on their wedding day. | Source

What Discoveries Were Made by Stephen Hawking?

Stephen Hawking's main contributions to the field of physics and cosmology lie in the studies of:

  • The Origins of the Universe
  • Time
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Gravitational and Spacetime Singularities
  • Black Hole Radiation
  • A Universe Without Spacetime Boundaries
  • Atheism
  • The High Likelihood of the Existence of Extraterrestrial Life

A Universe Without Space-Time Boundaries

Stephen Hawking hypothesized, and more or less proved with mathematical and physics models, the idea that the universe has no spacetime boundaries. He explained it like this:

"The Big Bang theory says that the universe of matter and energy began at a single point, which reached a critical mass, then exploded outward. The universe continues to expand. In a closed universe theory, at some point, the universe is going to 'hit the wall,' when enough energy has been expended from the original big bang, then begin to shrink again. In an open universe theory, the universe will just continue to expand indefinitely as the force of gravity becomes weaker and weaker as objects in space spread further apart."

His idea is that you can't have either space or time before the big bang. Therefore, the universe has no spacetime boundary. Spacetime boundaries are a completely human and artificial construct that do not really exist.

In 2006, with Thomas Hertog at CERN in Switzerland, Stephen Hawking proposed that the universe has no unique initial state, and that working outward to predict the current configuration of the universe from one particular state, such as in the Big Bang theory, contains a fallacy. Rather, Hawking's "top-down" cosmology says that in some ways, the present selects the past from a simultaneous superimposition of all the possible pasts.

Black Hole Radiation

Let's examine Hawking's discovery on black holes that emit radiation. A black hole is a collapsed star the has zero volume and practically infinite mass. Black holes are so dense that it was believed nothing could escape from them once it passed the "event horizon," or the proximity to a black hole where its gravity becomes irresistible. Stephen Hawking postulated the existence of radiation that emits through a black hole and comes out the other side. This is now accepted science, and the concept is known as Hawking radiation.

Black hole in the universe.
Black hole in the universe. | Source

Probability of Extraterrestrial Life

Hawking was dearly beloved by sci-fi fans and outer-space enthusiasts because he was a strong proponent of the likelihood of extraterrestrial life.

He said, without qualification, that the balance of probability lies strongly in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial life. He postulated that the earth has already been visited by extraterrestrial life in the form of viruses, and that he enjoyed imagining what more developed life forms could look like in galaxies far away.

However, he seriously doubted that there are humanoid life forms in other galaxies. Hawking said that it would be highly unlikely that life-supporting planets elsewhere would mirror lifeforms on Earth to such an extent. He blamed this on our failure to broaden our imagination when it comes to depictions of extraterrestrial life in fiction and in movies. We just can't imagine intelligent life that isn't humanoid, it seems.

Hawking thinks that, should we be visited by intelligent alien life, the occurrence might be a bad one for Earthlings:

"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans."

He also believes the only way to ensure the continuance of the human race is by developing spacecraft capable of closed bionic systems which will support life indefinitely, should our world become uninhabitable for some reason, either naturally or unnaturally.

Stephen Hawking on God

Stephen Hawking once said:

“I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."

This quote sort of encapsulates Stephen Hawking's stance on God and religion. He is not religious in the ordinary sense of the word: he doesn't believe that there was a God who created the universe; he doesn't believe in any sort of afterlife; and he doesn't believe in heaven or hell.

He does, however, believe in a grand celestial order, and that there is a grand design to all the systems of the universe and to life itself.

His work on the Unification Theory of Physics led him to believe that we might never be able to come up with one universal theory. Instead, we might have to use different parts of different theories to explain different phenomena, but there is an underlying unifying factor, if we could only get to it. It would explain the contradictions between the theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics. That unifying factor would be "God" to Stephen Hawking.

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

— Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has published many popular books in his field, and, unlike other cosmologists, his work is work is extremely accessible to everyday readers who aren't well-versed in the terminology of physics, mathematics or cosmology. His writing is clear, concise and full of humour, which is a fascinating and refreshing change since the concepts he proposes within the text are grandiose. Below is a list of some of the more accessible books Stephen Hawking has published:

  • A Brief History of Time (1988)
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1994)
  • The Nature of Space and Time (1996)
  • The Universe in a Nutshell (2001)
  • The Future of Spacetime (2002)
  • On the Shoulders of Giants (2002)
  • The Theory of Everything (2002)
  • God Created Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs that Changed History (2005)
  • The Grand Design (2010)
  • The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of (2011)
  • The Origin of (Almost) Everything (2016)

Hawking also wrote several children's books with the help of his daughter and co-author, Lucy. His writing reminds one very much of Carl Sagan's, and the two came to the same conclusion on the topic of the existence of God.

A Brief History of Time
A Brief History of Time

This is one of Stephen Hawking bestselling books on cosmology and one of my personal favorites. If you've never read any of Hawking's works before, this is a great place to start, as it is written in easily understandable language and postulates on many of the mysteries of the universe.


Stephen Hawking on God

© 2012 Paradise7


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    • profile image

      Prathmesh 26 hours ago

      Stephen hawking is a great he was parallises person but he do his work and do invention

    • profile image

      Bilal Khalid 2 days ago

      Stephen hawking was wrong, because life after death and the concept of hell and heaven is true.. May be my words have not enough power to made you believe..

    • profile image

      zoya baloch 2 days ago

      Stephen Hawking....a great scientist who changed the concept of origin of universe for me.

    • profile image

      Shankar 2 days ago

      Stephen Hawking is a god gifted scientist to our world. He is really great.

    • profile image

      Pujitha 2 days ago

      I liked the way everything about his life is explained in the essay.

    • profile image

      3 days ago

      Stephen hawking, King of cosmology,

      My ideal parson field in science.

      I'm very sad.

    • profile image

      Alien believer 3 days ago

      This inspires me a lot. Thanks. God bless his soul

    • profile image

      Anmol 3 days ago

      Stephen howking was such a great man in this world....

    • profile image

      Debunker No1 7 weeks ago

      You people are all delusional.

      Steven Hawkins is a fake and the current one is very different to one that died years ago.

      I dont want to insult your blindness, but the first Hawkins has a pointy chin and NO Ear lobes. The current one has a square chin, Earlobes and somehow Rabbit teeth. You are being fooled.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 8 months ago from Orlando Florida

      I enjoyed reading your essay about Stephen Hawking. He is a giant in the field of cosmology. I think you described his scientific conclusions very well.

    • profile image

      PRATHEEKSHA RAJ 19 months ago

      This was more informative

    • profile image

      Suraj Malasi 2 years ago

      Indeed he is a god gifted person. But Yes their is GOD & I strongly oppose his thought on the same

    • profile image

      Hari 2 years ago

      Nice work. Excellent article

    • profile image

      vijender 2 years ago

      Stephen Hawking is a god gifted awesome scientist

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 3 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Susan Lee. I couldn't agree with you more. The more we seek answers, either spiritually or through the physical sciences, the more we discover how very much everything is entangled. There are so many awesome mysteries in the heavens, on earth and everywhere in between.

    • SusanLee2 profile image

      SusanLee2 3 years ago

      Hawking is a brilliant man with a unique mind and I thank you for this page! I am fascinated by the ideas that theoretical physics proposes. What interests me most are the ways that spirituality, religion and science all seem to intersect in unexpected ways. We have so much more to learn and discover, and Hawking has made invaluable contributions to our understanding of our reality and ourselves.

    • profile image

      shreya litoria 3 years ago

      stephen hawking is great

    • profile image

      Amaan 3 years ago

      Stephen Hawkins has done a very observation.

    • profile image

      siddant 3 years ago

      this is truly interesting information

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Okay in a little while. There's tons of stuff to write; most of it is a bit over my head! Thank you so much for the comment.

    • profile image

      Aashish Rai 4 years ago

      He is one of the best mind on this earth. There is no word to explain about him. Thak you Paradise-7.

      I want something more

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment. He is a fascinating person and one of the great minds of the 21st century.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoy reading about Mr Hawking and every time I learn something new about him/his mind/his discoveries. A fascinating read!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub. I believe Hawking is an objective scientist. You have done an exemplary job of explaining his understanding of the universe.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      Stephen Hawking's hypotheses are truly fascinating. I, too, cannot understand or explain the mathematical or physical formulae, yet I perceive them as logical facts.

      Paradise, I must give you an A+ for explaining some of them in such a comprehensible style.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Anne and Green Lotus, for your kind comments.

    • annerivendell profile image

      annerivendell 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Wow! Engaging and informative Hub. What a unique person he is. Thank you.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      What a wonderful Hub. Hawking's theories are not easily explained to general audiences, but you have done a brilliant job. Thanks! Rated way up.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Doc, yes. I think the answer to your question has something to do with chaos theory. Systems become more and more complex, until they break down. We're latecomers on the evolutionary scale...connect the dots?

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      This is a fascinating discourse, Paradise, about Stephen Hawking, a fascinating and brilliant scientist. It is interesting that he believes the only way to ensure the continuance of the human race is by developing spacecraft with closed bionic systems to support life indefinitely if our world should become uninhabitable. Does he know something we don't? Just wonderin'.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much, Phil.

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Yep, Hawking is without a doubt a genius of our time. Excellent and informative hub, thanks for writing it, voted up and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Rosie, here's the answer to the IQ question:

      Although Professor Hawking discounts the value of numerical IQ's, he admitted that his own is likely very high (it has been suggested as 160 or more). He also said that "People who boast about their IQ's are losers". (see link to 2004 interview)

      ---a possibly dramatized anecdote from Introducing Stephen Hawking (2006)---

      Near the end of his term at Oxford and no doubt beginning to feel the effects of ALS, Hawking took a terrible fall down a staircase in the university hall. As a result, he temporarily lost his memory. He could not even remember his name. After several hours of interrogation by his friends, he finally returned to normal but was worried about possible permanent brain damage. To be sure, he decided to take the Mensa test for individuals with superior intelligence. He was delighted to find that he passed with flying colours, scoring between 200 and 250!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      I wonder that, too. I don't know what his IQ was. I could try to find out for us. It must be high, very high!

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're very welcome. It was a challenging project since so many of the concepts I can just barely understand, myself. To try to communicate the gist of them to others is a real challenge! What a fascinating person, though! The ideas are so unique, so original in thinking...concepts of time and space that are really something to wrap your mind around!

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 5 years ago from Virginia

      I'm wondering what his IQ was? Very detailed hub that gives a thorough summary of a man's life.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow... this must have taken some time to put together. Thank you for your hard work to bring Hawking to us.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Kitty. I couldn't agree more.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      Awesome article, paradise. What an intelligent man and provocative thinker. Thanks for writing this! Voted up and interesting.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      You aren't a nerd, E. Loads of people love Stephen Hawking and his work. He has the knack of making the large concept accessible, even if we don't quite get the proofs of it in math and physics.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Frank. I really took my time to do this one. His thinking is just so very intense, and interesting. It could have been miles longer! But I didn't think people would have the patience to read it.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      I am a total Hawkings fan, (Yes, I am a nerd), and have read all of his works (that I can understand) and find this hub absolutely a tribute to the man. Your bio is so good it should be online. This will draw a lot of attention from Google and users alike. Voted up and thank you!

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 5 years ago from Shelton

      Paradise this was more informative than a wiki-pedia.. your overview was engaging voted interesting :)