Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Stephen Hawking

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Stephen Hawking

Discover surprising facts about Stephen Hawking in this engaging article. From his early life to groundbreaking discoveries, explore the lesser-known aspects of this iconic physicist.
Stephen William Hawking (8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who, at the time of his death, was director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. Between 1979 and 2009, he was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, widely viewed as one of the most prestigious academic posts in the world.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Stephen Hawking

Welcome to a fascinating journey into the life and accomplishments of one of the greatest minds in modern physics. In this article, we’ll delve into ten things you didn’t know about Stephen Hawking, a man whose contributions to the scientific world were as remarkable as his indomitable spirit. From his childhood struggles to his groundbreaking work on black holes, this article will shed light on the lesser-known facets of Stephen Hawking’s life.

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Stephen Hawking

1. Stephen Hawking’s Early Fascination with Mathematics

From a very early age, Stephen Hawking exhibited an extraordinary fascination with mathematics. He was, in many ways, a prodigy, displaying an innate talent for understanding complex mathematical concepts that were far beyond his years. Growing up in Oxford, England, young Stephen was known for filling entire notebooks with mathematical equations and theories. His teachers and peers were astounded by his grasp of mathematical principles, and it was evident that he was destined for greatness in the world of science.

Hawking’s early foray into mathematics set the stage for his future achievements in the field. His childhood notebooks, now preserved for posterity, reveal not only his natural aptitude but also his insatiable curiosity. It was during these formative years that the seeds of his future groundbreaking work on black holes and cosmology were sown.

2. A Brief Stint as a Rowing Coxswain

While most people are familiar with Stephen Hawking’s brilliant mind and his groundbreaking contributions to the field of theoretical physics, few are aware of his brief yet remarkable stint as a rowing coxswain during his time at the University of Oxford. In the 1960s, Hawking was a student at the esteemed university, where he pursued his studies in cosmology and theoretical physics.

Hawking’s role as a coxswain was not only a testament to his determination but also an illustration of his competitive spirit. Despite facing physical challenges due to his motor neuron disease, he embraced the opportunity to be part of the Oxford rowing team. The role of a coxswain is crucial in rowing, as it involves steering the boat and coordinating the efforts of the rowers. Hawking’s determination and dedication were evident in his role, where he guided his team to success in various races.

3. The Unusual Bet with Kip Thorne

Stephen Hawking was not only a brilliant scientist but also a man with a great sense of humor and a willingness to engage in friendly wagers. One of the lesser-known aspects of his life is an unusual bet he made with fellow physicist Kip Thorne.

The bet revolved around the existence of black holes in Cygnus X-1, a binary star system. Hawking bet that Cygnus X-1 did not contain a black hole, while Thorne argued the opposite. To make the bet more interesting, the stakes were a year’s subscription to Penthouse magazine.

In 1990, Hawking conceded the bet, acknowledging that the evidence supporting the existence of a black hole in Cygnus X-1 was compelling. He humorously presented Thorne with the first issue of the magazine, noting that it had never arrived during the bet.

This incident showcases Hawking’s humility and good-natured approach to scientific disagreements. It also highlights his ability to engage with colleagues in a lighthearted and intellectually stimulating manner.

4. His Groundbreaking Work on Singularities

Among Stephen Hawking’s many accomplishments, his work on singularities in the theory of general relativity stands out as a testament to his scientific brilliance. Singularities are points in space-time where the gravitational field becomes infinitely strong, such as the center of a black hole or the initial singularity of the Big Bang.

Hawking’s research in this area was groundbreaking, as he developed the concept that the universe itself had a singularity at the moment of the Big Bang. This idea challenged traditional views on the origins of the universe and led to new avenues of exploration in cosmology.

5. The Iconic Computerized Voice

One of the most recognizable aspects of Stephen Hawking’s public persona was his distinctive computerized voice. What many people may not know is that this iconic voice was created by a software engineer named Dennis Klatt.

Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, which gradually paralyzed him and left him unable to speak. To communicate, he relied on a speech synthesizer. Initially, Hawking used a device called the “Equalizer,” which allowed him to select words and phrases by moving a cursor with his cheek muscle. This early system was limited, and his communication was painstakingly slow.

It was Dennis Klatt’s work that transformed Hawking’s ability to communicate. Klatt, a pioneer in speech synthesis, developed a unique voice for Hawking. The voice, known as the “Perfect Paul” voice, became synonymous with Hawking and is instantly recognizable to people around the world.

The computerized voice not only allowed Hawking to communicate with greater ease but also became an integral part of his identity. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and innovation, enabling a brilliant mind to continue sharing its insights with the world.

6. A Passion for Science Fiction

While Stephen Hawking was renowned for his contributions to the field of theoretical physics, he also had a deep passion for science fiction. In particular, he was an avid fan of the “Star Trek” series and appreciated the way it combined imaginative storytelling with scientific concepts.

Hawking’s love for science fiction was not confined to being a passive observer. He took his passion a step further by making a guest appearance on an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In the episode titled “Descent,” Hawking played a holographic representation of himself, engaging in a game of poker with the android character Data.

This cameo appearance not only thrilled fans of the show but also showcased Hawking’s ability to bridge the gap between science and popular culture. It demonstrated that he could appreciate the wonder and imagination of science fiction while remaining firmly grounded in the principles of scientific inquiry.

Hawking’s interest in science fiction underlines the importance of creativity and imagination in the scientific process. It reminds us that even the most brilliant minds find inspiration in unexpected places.

7. Pop Culture References

In addition to his appearance on “Star Trek,” Stephen Hawking made several other appearances in popular culture, further cementing his status as an icon beyond the realm of science. One notable example is his guest appearance on the animated series “The Simpsons.”

Hawking also made a cameo in the animated show “Futurama,” where he again portrayed himself. His appearances in these popular animated series endeared him to audiences of all ages and showcased his sense of humor and approachability.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments in Hawking’s pop culture interactions was his appearance as the “voice of God” during a Pink Floyd concert. The renowned band featured his synthesized voice in their song “Keep Talking,” further emphasizing the fusion of science and art.

These references and appearances in popular culture are a testament to Stephen Hawking’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life. They demonstrated that science could be entertaining and accessible, bridging the gap between the scientific community and the general public.

8. His Quest for a Unified Theory

One of Stephen Hawking’s lifelong goals was to find a unified theory of physics. This aspiration drove his work throughout his career and was a testament to his relentless pursuit of understanding the fundamental laws that govern the universe.

Hawking sought to unify two pillars of modern physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics. General relativity, developed by Albert Einstein, describes the behavior of gravity on a large scale, such as the movement of planets and galaxies. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with the behavior of particles on the smallest scales, such as atoms and subatomic particles.

Combining these two theories into a single, coherent framework, often referred to as a “theory of everything,” was a daunting task. Hawking, along with other physicists, worked on this challenge for years, driven by the belief that such a theory would provide a complete and elegant description of the universe.

Although Hawking did not succeed in finding a unified theory during his lifetime, his dedication to the quest left an indelible mark on the field of theoretical physics. His work on black holes, cosmology, and quantum mechanics brought us closer to understanding the fundamental workings of the cosmos.

9. Hawking’s Advocacy for Space Exploration

Beyond his academic pursuits, Stephen Hawking was a passionate advocate for space exploration. He believed that the future of humanity lay among the stars and that space exploration was not a luxury but a necessity. His vision and enthusiasm for space exploration inspired countless individuals and organizations to continue pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

Hawking’s advocacy for space exploration was not limited to theoretical discussions. He actively supported initiatives aimed at reaching the stars. One of his most notable projects was the Breakthrough Starshot, a program aimed at sending nanocrafts to the nearest stars within our lifetime. This visionary endeavor embodied Hawking’s belief in humanity’s ability to overcome challenges and explore the cosmos.

His advocacy also extended to raising awareness about the importance of protecting the Earth’s environment. Hawking emphasized the need to address climate change and other environmental issues, underscoring the interconnectedness of our planet and the broader cosmos.

10. A Legacy That Transcends Time

Stephen Hawking’s legacy extends far beyond his scientific contributions. It encompasses his remarkable resilience and determination in the face of adversity. Diagnosed with a debilitating motor neuron disease at a young age, Hawking defied the odds and continued to pursue his passion for understanding the universe.

His life story serves as an inspiration to people around the world, demonstrating the power of the human spirit to overcome challenges and make profound contributions to society. His ability to engage with popular culture and connect with audiences of all backgrounds highlights his unique capacity to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the general public.

In the realm of physics, Hawking’s work on black holes, singularities, and the fundamental nature of the universe remains a cornerstone of modern theoretical physics. His theories and discoveries continue to shape our understanding of the cosmos, challenging our preconceived notions and opening doors to new avenues of exploration.


Q: What is Stephen Hawking’s most famous contribution to physics?

Hawking’s most famous contribution is his work on Hawking radiation, which revolutionized our understanding of black holes.

Q: How did Stephen Hawking communicate?

He used a computerized voice synthesizer to communicate, as his motor neuron disease left him unable to speak.

Q: Did Stephen Hawking win any awards?

Yes, he received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Copley Medal, and the Fundamental Physics Prize.

Q: What was Stephen Hawking’s educational background?

Hawking earned his Ph.D. in cosmology from the University of Cambridge and went on to become a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a prestigious position previously held by Sir Isaac Newton.

Q: What impact did Stephen Hawking have on popular culture?

Hawking’s appearances on popular TV shows and his book, “A Brief History of Time,” made complex scientific concepts accessible to the general public, earning him a place in popular culture.

Q: How did Stephen Hawking pass away?

Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018, at the age of 76 due to complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).


In this exploration of ten things you didn’t know about Stephen Hawking, we’ve uncovered the multifaceted nature of this brilliant physicist. From his early mathematical prowess to his iconic contributions to science and his enduring influence on popular culture, Stephen Hawking’s life and work continue to leave an indelible mark on the world. As we reflect on his legacy, we’re reminded that his story is not just about physics; it’s a testament to the human spirit’s resilience and determination.

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