The true courage of science’s brightest star

Wise words: “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet … be curious.” © Getty

What can we learn from Stephen Hawking? Superstar physicist, renowned writer and inspiring teacher — Hawking achieved all this despite huge adversity. Some see a life lesson for us all.

At 21, many believe their life is just beginning. But at that tender age in 1963, Stephen Hawking received terrible news. He was diagnosed with a rare motor neurone disease, and doctors gave him two years to live. In the end, he defied their expectations by 53 years — becoming one of the world’s most celebrated scientists in the process. He died yesterday aged 76.

During his life he achieved many things, producing pioneering research on black holes and cosmology.

Yet all the while he battled his terrible disease which put him in a wheelchair and robbed him of his speech.

It also gave him great difficulty writing, yet it was a book, A Brief History of Time, that secured his stardom. Spending 237 weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller list and translated into 40 languages, it introduced a mass audience to the most fundamental questions about the universe.

But through all his triumphs and tribulations, he was also a husband and a father to three children. And as news of his death broke his children released a statement quoting one of their father’s thoughts: “He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’”

What can we learn from the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking?

Timeless

His life is about triumph over adversity, some argue. Hawking's achievements stand alone. But that he did all those things while fighting a crippling disability is the true triumph. It shows that we can all overcome the direst circumstances if we only believe we can.

It is more subtle than that, others say. It is not that he overcame difficulty, but that adversity made him who he was — spurring him on to make the best of the time he had. The message is not that any hardship can be defeated, but that even the worst circumstances can produce wonderful things.

You Decide

  1. Can hardship be a good thing?

Activities

  1. Write down the name of one famous person that you most admire. Share your choice with your classmates. Are there any popular choices? How many scientists did the class choose? Should scientists be more celebrated by society?

Some People Say...

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”

Stephen Hawking

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Hawking died at his home in Cambridge on Wednesday, March 14. While he won many prizes, including the Albert Einstein Award, he never received a Nobel Prize.
What do we not know?
The extent of Hawking’s greatness purely as a scientist is hotly debated. When an interviewer proposed that he was the greatest physicist since Einstein, Hawking called the notion “rubbish”.

Word Watch

Motor neurone disease
The condition causes neurons in the brain to break down. This causes muscles to slowly weaken making everyday tasks difficult or impossible.
Cosmology.
The science of the origin and development of the universe.
Speech
Hawking communicated with a computerised speech synthesiser that he controlled by moving his cheek. Its robotic voice became iconic, and Hawking claimed he would never change it for a more realistic British accent.
A Brief History of Time
First published in 1988, it has since sold over 10 million copies.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.