Hawking to Retire, But Not Quit

by Nancy Atkinson on October 27, 2008

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking will retire from his post at Cambridge University next year, but he still intends to continue his exploration of time and space. University policy is that officeholders must retire at the end of the academic year in which they become 67. Hawking will reach that age on Jan. 8, 2009. Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the university, a title once held Isaac Newton. The university said on Friday that he would step down at the end of the academic year in September, but would continue working as Emeritus Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. Hawking became a scientific celebrity through his theories on black holes and the nature of time, work that he carried on despite becoming severely disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

He has written a very candid piece on living quite a full life in spite of this disease.

Hawking was born on January 8, 1942 (300 years after the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. He attended University College in Oxford, and wanted to study mathematics, but it wasn’t available as a major, so he chose Physics instead. After three years and “not very much work,” Hawking said, he was awarded a first class honours degree in Natural Science. He then went to Cambridge to do research in Cosmology, since no one was working in that area in Oxford at the time.

After getting his Ph.D. he became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. 1973 Stephen came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and since 1979 has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics.

Hawking first earned recognition for his theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known as “Hawking radiation.”

His 1988 book, “A Brief History of Time,” was an international best-seller; in 2001 he published “The Universe in a Nutshell,” and a children’s book, “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” was published in 2007, which was co-authored with his daughter Lucy.

To celebrate his 65th birthday in 2007, he took a zero-gravity flight. In part, he went on the flight to bring public attention to space travel. “I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space,” he said.

Most of Hawkings papers are available here (type his name in the search box.)

Sources: MSNBC, Hawking’s website


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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