The news came out of Cambridge last week that Stephen Hawking passed away. One of the great minds of human kind left this world quietly, at home, with his wife nearby. Hawking was one of those rare individuals, graced with an incredible mind and a spectacular ability to explain his deepest thoughts in such a way that the most humble of laymen could at least grasp the basics.
Hawking spent his career searching for the Grand Unified Theory – that near mystical mathematical formula that would resolve the contradictions between the General Theory of Relativity and the Laws of Quantum Physics. It was, in Hawking’s words, how mankind would “know the mind of God.” Hawking was not convinced that God made sure the “good guys always win” but he felt that there was a reason for the existence of the universe. Physics was the way to find that answer.
One of Hawking’s first discoveries was Hawking radiation. This oddity of the physical world was first proposed by Hawking in 1974. With a little fancy mathematical work, he demonstrated that black holes were not the great galaxy devourers as typically portrayed. It turns out, that if you’re a positive energy subatomic particle, you can escape from the event horizon of a black hole while your negatively charged twin falls into the abyss. The problem? The temperature difference would be so small as to be imperceptible, at least with current technology. The good news? There are larger scale versions of Hawking’s predicted radiation that we can see. The most recent studies, conducted in 2010 in Vancouver, would seem to lend support to Hawking’s theory.
This later led to his proposal in 2004 that objects sucked into black holes did not simply disappear forever or reappear in an alternate universe, but could be ejected back into our universe in a mangled form. It was Hawking’s attempt to explain the apparent total annihilation of matter and energy as it enters a black hole and the subatomic theory that matter can never be fully destroyed. Despite Hawking’s later uncertainty about the likelihood of a Grand Unified Theory, he was still searching for a way to join these disparate rules.
Perhaps one of Hawking’s most curious ideas came about when he pondered the beginnings of the universe. Hawking suggested that there is no beginning or end to space and time. Just a different form. Sci-fi writers were practically drooling over the possibilities.
For all that Hawking contributed to the advancement of quantum physics, he will probably be best remembered for his books “A Brief History of Time” and “The Universe in a Nutshell”. His ability to explain such dense theories in a wonderfully and deceptively simple way created a new army of scientists to explore the great questions in both the macro and micro worlds.
Personally, one of our favorite traits of Hawking was his love of champagne. Hawking was a devotee of the bubbly, and was known to enjoy a glass or two whenever possible. Best of all, he even managed to involve champagne in one of his favorite experiments. Determined to establish whether time travel was possible, Hawking threw a party in 2009, but did not send out the invitations until well afterwards. In theory, time travelers would be able to attend despite the lateness of the invitation.
Unfortunately, no one showed up for the party. Video that Hawking shot shows champagne being poured into flutes and plates of canapés ready for any and all guests who might arrive. And Hawking sat in the middle of it all, with nary a time traveler in sight. Hawking later stated that he felt this was proof that time travel would not happen.
Various theories were tossed out as to why no time traveler stopped by. Everything from the invitations were lost by the time time travel was discovered to “time travelers are dicks” were posited. Our favorite? Hawking killed them all in order to preserve the time-space continuum and save humanity.
Hawking was once asked during an interview if he had any regrets. In his usual dry manner he replied that his one great regret was that the device that spoke for him was built by a company in California, giving this inheritor of Newton’s chair a distinctly American accent, rather than the English one he still heard in his own head. So, to honor this great mind, we humbly raise a glass of his favorite champagne (Krug) and in our best English accents wish him “Cheerio” and “May we see you again some day, when time travel makes all things possible.”