Friday, January 7, 2011

Stephen Hawking Biography - Biography.com

Stephen Hawking Biography - Biography.com

Born January 8, 1942 in Oxford, England. The eldest of Frank and Isobel Hawking's four children, Stephen William Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo, which has long been a source of pride for the noted physicist. Stephen was born into a family of thinkers. At a time when few women thought of going to college, the Scottish born Isobel earned her way into Oxford University in the 1930s, making her one of the college's first female students. Frank Hawking, another Oxford graduate, was a respected medical researcher with a specialty in tropical diseases.

Stephen Hawking's birth came at an inopportune time for his parents, who didn't have much money. The political climate was also tense, as England was dealing with World War II and the onslaught of German bombs. In an effort to seek a safer place to have their first child, Frank moved his pregnant wife from their London home to Oxford. The Hawkings would go on to have two other children, Mary (1943) and Philippa (1947). A second son, Edward, was adopted in 1956.

The Hawkings, as one close family friend described them, were an "eccentric" bunch. Dinner was often eaten in silence, each of the Hawkings intently reading a book. The family car was an old London taxi and their home in St. Albans was a three-story fixer-upper that never quite got fixed. The Hawkings also kept bees in the basement, and made fireworks in the greenhouse.

In 1950, Stephen's father took work as the head of the Division of Parasitology at the National Institute of Medical Research, and spent the winter months in Africa doing research. He wanted his oldest child to go into medicine, but from an early age Stephen showed a passion for science and the sky. That was evident to his mother who, along with her children, often stretched out in the backyard on summer evenings to stare up at the stars. "Stephen always had a strong sense of wonder," she remembered. "And I could see that the stars would draw him."

Early in his academic life Stephen, while recognized as bright, was not an exceptional student. At one point in high school, his mother recalled, he was third from the bottom of his class. Instead, Stephen turned his mind loose on pursuits outside of school. He loved board games, and with a few close friends created new games of their own. At the age of 16 Stephen, along with several other buddies, constructed a computer out of recycled parts for solving rudimentary mathematical equations.

He was also on the go a lot. "Always on the move," said a family friend. "Hardly ever still." With his sister Mary, Stephen, who loved to climb, devised different entry routes into the family home. He remained active even after he entered Oxford University at the age of 17. He loved to dance, and also took an interest in rowing, becoming one of the Oxford rowing team's coxswain.

To his father's chagrin, Hawking finally said no to medicine, instead expressing a desire to study mathematics. But since Oxford didn't offer a mathematics degree, Hawking gravitated toward physics and, more specifically, cosmology.

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