The passing of a great scientist

I’ve been an avid science enthusiast ever since the seventh grade when I attended Columbus Jr. High School in the early seventies while living in the San Fernando Valley. My interest in science was sparked after completing a required reading assignment by one of my teachers — for which I felt some resistance to — that involved a book called “The Martian Chronicles,” consisting of a series of short science fiction stories by famed author Ray Bradbury.

Up until that point I was admittedly not a very good student, finding myself bored with my studies and constantly daydreaming in class.

But that book awakened something special within me that to this day I attribute to my eventual (modest?) success as a writer and storyteller.

I suddenly found myself with a voracious appetite for all things Bradbury, which soon expanded my interest in reading other science fiction authors and their stories of time travel, intergalactic adventures and space monsters.

From my interest in science fiction, I became even more fascinated with science itself; this resulted in my grades improving, which no doubt was a genuine relief to my mother.

During my school days, my affinity for reading about physics and astronomy earned me a reputation for being seen as overly intellectual, maybe a little obsessive, too. Friends would affectionately call me space cadet or simply nerd. I didn’t mind the tag in the least.

Over subsequent years my fascination with science has increased substantially.

So it was with a sense of personal sadness when I heard the recent reports that theoretical physicistStephen Hawking, internationally renowned for his contributions to the study of black holes, had died at the age of 76 on March 14 after decades of stunningly prolific work.

In what may be regarded as an astounding coincidence, Hawking’s birthday, Jan. 8, is the same day that famed astronomer Galileo died at age 77 in 1642. March 14, the day of his death, also marks the birthday of Albert Einstein, who would have turned 139 this year.

Diagnosed at age 21 with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) during his early days at the University of Cambridge in England — he wasn’t supposed to live past 23 — Hawking survived the next 55 years, living for decades confined to a wheelchairwith the prospect of death hanging over his head. Despite his predicament, he never worried about his plight, using humor and always remaining positive.

Hawking was famous as an author, too, writing “A Brief History of Time” in 1988, with the book detailing in non-scientific terms the timeline of the universe. The book sold over 10 million copies and was translated into dozens of languages, making him a multi-millionaire.

Considered one of the truest intellectual visionaries of the modern age, Hawking was distinguished for his work on black holes, as well as applying Relativity to his subject.

His application of thermodynamics to explain features of black holes, celestial objects whose gravity is so intense that light itself cannot escape its clutches, was pivotal.

Hawking’s work changed the way society — or least the world of science — understands the ever-changing universe.

In the world of theoretical physics, Hawking wasn’t just merely a contributor — he was a rock star. During his career he set forth a number of far-reaching concepts that are now part of the lexicon of science, namely Hawking radiation (black holes “evaporate” over cosmological time scales), mini-black holes (smaller than the nucleus of an atom) and more.

It is not my purpose here to go into great detail on what these concepts entailed or to provide extensive explanations on his ideas, but rather to emphasize not only his extraordinary depth of thought, but especially his humanity, combined with an almost childlike playfulness.

A pop culture icon and globally-renowned figure in the world of science, Hawking became one of the world’s most successful popularizers of science, butsurprisingly never received the Nobel Prize.

He communicated with the world through his voice synthesizer, and guest-starred as himself on shows such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “The Simpsons,” according to IMDb, an Internet movie database.

Perhaps just as important as his scientific breakthroughs, he taught that no matter the difficulties of life, there is always something that one can do and succeed at. “Where there is life, there is hope,” he once said.

Married twice with three children, he explained that, “I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”

Hawking wrote, “… One need not lose hope,” regardless of what hand life has dealt you, and spoke candidly that while he “wasn’t afraid of death,” he was in no hurry to die.

His courage and perseverance, together with his brilliance and wit have inspired people across the world. Hawking’s legacy will live on for many years.