Newswise — EVANSTON, Ill. --- Stephen Hawking, a visionary physicist, as well as a pop culture icon, died today at the age of 76, leaving scientists, doctors, space enthusiasts and “Simpsons” fans alike to reflect on his contributions to modern cosmology and entertainment.
A Northwestern University theoretical astrophysicist, a neuroscientist and a communication researcher are available to offer perspective on the far-reaching ripples of Hawking’s work and public outreach.
Vicky Kalogera is a gravitational wave expert and the leading astrophysicist in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Kalogera is the Daniel I. Linzer Distinguished University Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA).
Kalogera can be reached at [email protected].
Quote from Professor Kalogera
“Stephen Hawking was a genius of our times. His most important and famous scientific legacy is known as ‘Hawking radiation’ — the fact that isolated black holes are actually not completely ‘black’ but instead, through quantum processes, they evaporate themselves, shed their own mass/energy into pairs of particles. In practice, astrophysical black holes go through this process of evaporation over such long times — much longer than the age of the universe — that they appear stable to us.
“Hawking, though, is important for his legacy as a public scientist and a human being, and for inspiring so many young minds to be curious about science and to want to pursue science; for serving as a shining example of hope and perseverance at the face of such extraordinary personal adversity.
“He will be missed for his brilliant mind, his exceptional humor and wit and exemplary life as a human and a scientist.”
Hande Ozdinler is an associate professor in the department of neurology in Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She is also a faculty member in the Les Turner ALS Research and Patient Center, the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Research Center and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Research Center.
Quote from Professor Ozdinler
“As you know, ALS is the disease of the motor neurons in the brain and the spinal cord, and neuronal activity is what keeps neurons alive and functional. Active thinking, conceptualization of complex ideas, and hypothesis-driven analysis of integrated and convoluted theories keeps the brain nourished, active, connected and alive.
“Many of us believe that it is impossible to live with ALS more than five to six years, and yet Dr. Hawking lived with ALS for more than 50 years! In my opinion, Dr. Hawking was able to overcome ALS thanks to his ability to keep his brain neurons alive, connected and active. His brain capacity might have contributed to the slowing of his disease.
“Dr. Hawking, even with his death, teaches us a lesson: keeping brain cells active and happy could indeed be a solution for the ALS disease.”
Irving Rein, a professor of communication studies in Northwestern’s School of Communication, studies popular culture and crisis management. He is an internationally known expert in public communication and popular culture.
Quote from Professor Rein
“Stephen Hawking was that rare scientist who became a popular culture icon. He was able to combine his research insights with a narrative that inspired people who also faced adversity. He was able to communicate these discoveries in language that was widely consumed and distributed.
“In a crowded field with research studies flooding the market, he branded his identity and insights.”