It can be hard to recognize someone’s contributions to the world while they are still alive. It can take time for the world to step back and realize the full scope of what a person achieved on Earth and their place in the annals of history.
For example, only now do we realize the full magnitude of Billy Mays’s
contributions to stain removal. Sleep well, you beautiful soul.
Fortunately, I don’t think this is the case with Stephen Hawking. I think people already understand Stephen Hawking’s place in history. Quite simply, he was one of the greatest scientists of all time. I personally believe Hawking will be remembered as one of the most important scientists ever, right alongside Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Curie.
And me, Dan Re
In case you don’t know, here’s a rundown of Stephen Hawking’s biggest contributions to science:
- He provided support for the Big Bang Theory of universe creation by positing the singularity: a location where space and time were indistinguishable. Or basically, the beginning of time.
- He theorized what is now known as Hawking radiation: subatomic particles that can escape black holes, which was cool because up until then people figured nothing could escape black holes.
- He conceptualized the Theory of Everything, the (still undiscovered) single unifying equation that linked Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (big things) and Quantum Theory of subatomic particles (small things).
- He found that selfie-takers don’t look as good as they think they do.
“People who take too many selfies are the black holes of society”- Professor Stephen Hawking
Actually, that last one was me, but you get the idea, he was a brilliant scientist. But he was also more than that. We here at Science Everywhere appreciate anyone who makes science fun and accessible, and Stephen Hawking was one of the best at doing just that. In 1988, he wrote A Brief History of Time for non-specialists to understand research on the origin of the universe, which couldn’t have been easy, and yet it became an international best-seller.
I read the dumbed-down version, A Briefer History of Time
He wrote several other books aimed at the public, including The Universe in a Nutshell, Black Holes and Baby Universes, and God Created the Integers, all summarizing extremely complex topics for people to enjoy. He even co-wrote the George’s Secret Key series of children’s books with his daughter, which aimed to explain the universe to kids.
We as a society can’t get kids to stop eating laundry detergent, and Stephen Hawking is teaching them theoretical physics
Hawking was also gracious in being wrong – he famously made several scientific bets with other researchers and lost almost all of them; but more importantly, always made a public spectacle of admitting his mistakes and congratulating his colleagues for being right. In a profession where reputation is so important (and egos are just so, so fragile), Hawking showed academics that it’s okay to be wrong, and that scientific disagreements, if done with professionalism and class, can lead to some of the best scientific discoveries.
It can also lead to some hard partying, if this picture is anything to go by
Stephen Hawking was so devoted to science communication that he became a pop culture mainstay, with appearances in The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, Futurama and Star Trek, to the point where people know him for his comedy roles far more than they know what he did in science. And he was hilarious. Like that time he literally hosted a party for time-travelers and sat there by himself when no one showed up.
Which makes it pretty typical for parties hosted by scientists
And it’s for his role in science communication, and making science cool, that we at Science Everywhere salute him. Indeed, it takes a great mind to come up with the things Stephen Hawking did, but it might take just as great a mind to get people to care about them. Stephen Hawking ranks among the greatest scientists of all time, but he was the absolute greatest at communicating his ideas to the world. And the world is better for him having been here.