“Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.”
Ironically, these words were contrived by the legendary Stephen Hawking, who passed away on Wednesday, 14 March at the age of 76. His dry wit, steadfast belief in aliens and black holes, and his ‘theory of everything’ (regularly refurbished), however is something that will never be forgotten.
As a tribute and a thank you to the infinite bundles of exciting anecdotes, daunting theories and world-changing discoveries, here are facts about the world-famous cosmologist to remember him by, things they did not include in the footnotes at school!
1. Link to Galileo?
Alright, so this may be just a ‘cosmic’ coincidence, but Hawking was born on the 300th death anniversary of classically renowned astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei.
Both scientists had proposed eccentric theories that earned them a ton of criticism from the religious and the sceptics. However, their contributions have, in all likelihood, changed the world as we know it, and the fact that they share this fact is plain brilliant.
2. Hawking Was a Slacker
“People who boast about their IQ are losers.”
That statement alone should tell you that Hawking wasn’t the Hermione Granger-esque parallel during his time at school. According to CNN, Hawking, surprisingly, was quite the slacker at school.
His grades weren’t brilliant, and he would just about make the cut to ‘above average’. Despite that, he always showed a knack for out-of-textbook learning, which earned him the seemingly agreeable nickname of ‘Einstein’ in his classroom.
So the next time your family gives your grief about failing in Maths, tell them that you’re a Hawking in the cocoon who is yet to metamorphose... And hey, if that doesn’t work, cite Einstein!
3. A Children's Book Writer
When he isn’t writing about scientific theories that potentially predict the end of the world, Hawking spent his time writing children’s books! In a four-part series, co-written by his daughter Lucy, reports CNN, Hawking uses a narrative which is appealing to children and adults alike to explain his different theories around the universe.
The books, ‘George's Secret Key to the Universe’ (2007), ‘George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt’ (2009), ‘George and the Big Bang’ (2012) and ‘George and the Unbreakable Code’ (2014) explain facts around atoms, stars, planets and later, black holes, in the simplest way possible.
4. Part of the Oxford Rowing Team
In the first few months of college at Oxford, Hawking was often bored and complained about how academia didn’t challenge him enough, reports the science website, HowStuffWorks. In a possible attempt to improve his social life, he joined the University’s rowing team, which led to an upsurge in his popularity and definitely got his name in the radar.
An eccentric genius with a popularity tag was soon in the making.
5. Lost a Bet on Black Holes
According to Ranker, in 1997, he made a bet with American theoretical physicist John Preskill about one of his infamous ‘black hole theory’, saying that nothing could escape from a black hole, not even information. However, it turned out this went against the law of quantum mechanics, and he gracefully accepted defeat in 2004.
6. Got on Pope John Paul II’s Bad Side
Turns out that Pope John Paul II wasn’t a big fan of Hawking’s work. According to Mental Floss, in 2006, Hawkings revealed that the then Pope had discouraged him from studying the beginning of the universe and during a cosmology conference at Vatican, had added that its origins were the ‘work of God’ and shouldn’t be challenged.
To this, Hawkings, in his typical tongue-and-cheek manner, had said that the Pope shouldn’t find out that the paper he presented at the said conference was on the ‘beginning of the universe’, because he didn’t “fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo”.
7. Took a Zero Gravity Flight, With Help From Richard Branson
At the age of 65, in 2007, Hawking managed to travel to space to experience zero-degree gravity with the help of Richard Branson. Once he was floating in space, he even ditched his chair and performed a backflip for kicks!
Hawking has left behind an unrivalled legacy. One, that will be celebrated for decades to come.