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Published June 2019 | public
Journal Article

Stephen William Hawking CH CBE. 8 January 1942-14 March 2018


Stephen Hawking's contributions to the understanding of gravity, black holes and cosmology were truly immense. They began with the singularity theorems in the 1960s followed by his discovery that black holes have an entropy and consequently a finite temperature. Black holes were predicted to emit thermal radiation, what is now called Hawking radiation. He pioneered the study of primordial black holes and their potential role in cosmology. His organization of and contributions to the Nuffield Workshop in 1982 consolidated the picture that the large-scale structure of the universe originated as quantum fluctuations during the inflationary era. Work on the interplay between quantum mechanics and general relativity resulted in his formulation of the concept of the wavefunction of the universe. The tension between quantum mechanics and general relativity led to his struggles with the information paradox concerning deep connections between these fundamental areas of physics. These achievements were all accomplished following the diagnosis during the early years of Stephen's studies as a post-graduate student in Cambridge that he had incurable motor neuron disease—he was given two years to live. Against all the odds, he lived a further 55 years. The distinction of his work led to many honours and he became a major public figure, promoting with passion the needs of disabled people. His popular best-selling book, A brief history of time, made cosmology and his own work known to the general public world-wide. He became an icon for science and an inspiration to all.

Additional Information

© 2019 The Author(s). Published by the Royal Society. The editors are most grateful to the authors of this memoir for their writings and their collaboration in producing a single coherent account of the Stephen's life and work. Malcolm Perry and Anna N. Żytkow were particularly helpful in editing the memoir and clarifying parts of the story. We are also very grateful to Jane Hawking for her sensitive scrutiny of the memoir and to the trustees of Stephen's Estate for permission to reproduce the early images of Stephen and his family. Anna N. Żytkow kindly provided colour images from her vast collection of photographs recording Stephen's activities. The frontispiece portrait shows Stephen on his sixtieth birthday in 2002 and is © Dr Anna N. Żytkow. The editor-in-chief is most grateful to the authors for providing their contributions about the areas in which they worked with Stephen. The memoir was put together and edited by Malcolm Longair and Martin Rees in consultation with the authors.

Additional details

August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023