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A Brief History Of Stephen Hawking
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A Brief History Of Stephen Hawking

Professor Stephen Hawking must be one of the most talented and inspirational wheelchair-users that the world has ever known. He is certainly the most well-known scientist of our time. He is a British theoretical physicist, author and cosmologist, most famous for his best-selling book on popular science, A Brief History of Time, published in 1988 (which stayed in the Sunday Times best-seller lists for a record 237 weeks). He is an expert on black holes in space and has done a lot of very highly-respected work in scientific circles on this topic. (Hawking radiation has been named after him, which is  what happens when black holes leak energy and gradually fade away to nothing). He is the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, has been married twice and has 3 children.

Hawking has a rare form of motor neurone disease, amyotropic lateral sclerosis, (ALS) and is almost completely paralysed, so he is permanently confined to a wheelchair and communicates through a voice synthesiser. He lost his voice in 1985 after a tracheotomy following a near-fatal bout of pneumonia. He then began to communicate with a speech synthesiser. A small computer was adapted for this purpose and attached to his wheelchair. He has said of it: “I can communicate better now than before I lost my voice”, which is a very positive take on it. The voice he uses has an American accent and is no longer produced. Even though he could now be given another voice with an English accent, Hawking says he prefers to stick with the original one, otherwise it would be like losing his voice all over again, which is understandable.

His disease deterioration has continued, as evidenced by the fact that previously he was able to activate his speech synthesiser with his hand, but now it is activated by twitching of his cheek muscles. He has increased problems in breathing and sometimes needs a ventilator, and it is possible he may develop locked-in syndrome. In anticipation of this, he is collaborating with researchers who may be able to design systems which use facial expressions or brain patterns to activate the voice machine.

Hawking first began to suffer from health problems related to his disease whilst studying at Oxford University: the first symptoms of this were in his final year when he fell over a couple of times for no apparent reason and his speech became slurred. He was given a diagnosis of motor neurone disease when he was 21, and at the time a life expectancy of around 2 years. This is a progressive illness, but in Hawking's case it has progressed slower than is usual. Maybe this is a result of the sheer effort of will: the genius intellect had so much it wanted to achieve in science, so he has managed to slow down the illness somewhat, in a heroic case of “mind over matter.” Soon after leaving university he had to start using crutches to walk, and by the end of the 1960s he was using a wheelchair, but it took a huge amount of persuasion for him to accept this aid. His wife, Jane Hawking, said: “"Some people would call it determination, some obstinacy. I've called it both at one time or another."

He received a first class honours degree in physics and chemistry from Oxford University in 1962 and went on to study for a doctorate in cosmology at Cambridge University, where he afterwards taught as a professor. Whilst teaching there, he became involved in a dispute over who would pay for the ramp he needed to enter his workplace, and this motivated him and his wife to campaign for improved access and support for the disabled at Cambridge.

To date, he has completely defied the odds by reaching the age of 71, when most people who are diagnosed with his illness are dead within 5 years. Besides all his astonishing scientific achievements, he is a hugely inspirational character in his dealing with his disability. It may be true that  most ordinary people who are in wheelchairs or are disabled do not have genius intellects like him, but he shows that by focussing on the positive and on what they want to do, they can still live productive and fulfilled lives.

Please vote and comment if you enjoyed this blog.

Picture courtesy of www.famenetworth.com

Leave a Comment

  1. pftsusan
    pftsusan
    Very inspiring blog. Stephen pushed and got further in life. His will was stronger then his disease. Voted. I invite you to my latest, "Wheel Chair Users Can Fly Helicopters." Please vote if you like it.
    Log in to reply.
    1. Broken English
      Broken English
      Thanks Susan. I already have voted and commented on your blog, really enjoyed it!
      Log in to reply.
  2. PAUL  KHO
    PAUL KHO
    Professor Stephen Hawking is one of my mentors. He inspired me to go beyond my limits. He had proven intelligence should be rated not by physically limitations but by the abilities of a person. I had always believe in this despite the fact I was constantly criticized for my work especially from my parents. I have his book [i]A Brief History of Time[/i] in my private library collection. He had motivated me to write stories and applying solid well proven scientific principals and theories to every story I had written. Maybe one day I will have the chance to meet him in person. He had appeared in Star Trek TNG and was the host to Discovery's Curiosity series. He was and still is one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century. Check it out.
    Log in to reply.
    1. Broken English
      Broken English
      Thanks Paul. I haven't read A Brief History of Time, but I plan to at some point (if I can get my head around it!) So you write stories? Are they published anywhere? If you have your own blog I would be interested in reading them. I would also love to meet Stephen Hawking, he must be an incredible man.
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      1. pftsusan
        pftsusan
        Make that three of us. I would like to meet him too. :-)
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  3. SignLanguage
    Wonderfully written, as usual! I was thinking about writing about him, too. I adore the Big Bang Theory and aw the one where he made an appearance. voted!
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  4. Lil Nana
    Lil Nana
    Great blog! I never heard of him till I saw him on The Big Bang Theory...Awesome!
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  5. Rene
    Rene
    Voted! Love this article so very inspiring! :) Please check out Everything in Moderation, vote & comment if you like it. Thanks! :)
    Log in to reply.
    1. Broken English
      Broken English
      Thanks Rene. I am heading over to look at yours now.
      Log in to reply.
  6. sweedly
    sweedly
    Excellent post. This man is a inspiration to a lot of people. He made a difference in showing how disabilities don't control your whole life, unless you let them. Good Writing. Voted
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