Article 78: Stephen Hawking – Decoding the universe over a cup of coffee

19/10/2021
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Stephen Hawking is the most famous icon of contemporary science for his extraordinary intellect and creativity. His research has changed the way people understand the universe.

Kỳ 78: Stephen Hawking – Giải mã vũ trụ bên tách cà phê

Searching for a brief history of time

Quantum theory and relativity are the two pillars of 20th century science. Quantum theory describes the microscopic world from molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles, discovered by physicist Max Planck in 1900. Later, Albert Einstein proved that humans can directly observe quanta. By the mid-1920s, quantum theory was systematically expressed in the fundamental postulates of Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg, Max Born and many other scientists.

In the same period, in 1905, Albert Einstein first proposed the theory of special relativity. According to him, space and time are not absolute, they are dynamic quantities shaped by matter and energy in the universe. In 1915, Albert Einstein continued to publish the theory of general relativity, indicating the existence of black holes – regions of space and time so warped that even light cannot escape.

“Why are we here and where do we come from? Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest.” - Stephen Hawking

“Why are we here and where do we come from? Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest.” – Stephen Hawking

Two theories attempt to answer the age-old question: where did the universe come from, why did the universe appear? How has the universe evolved, what will be its fate? While quantum theory describes phenomena on the microscopic scale, relativity describes the extreme structure of the universe, both cannot be true at the same time. Stephen Hawking has the ambition to find the only theory capable of describing the entire universe, which he considers the ultimate goal of science.

Stephen Hawking has published many studies deciphering cosmology, Big Bang theory, black holes, quantum gravity theory. In 1966, while studying physics at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking did a thesis that presented the theoretical basis for the beginning of the universe from a singularity. His work entitled “Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time” won the Adam Prize. In 1968, Stephen Hawking introduced the concept of “Gravitational singularity theory” describing the scenario of the end of the universe. In 1970, he discovered what became known as the “Second Law of Black Hole Mechanics”. In 1973, he published his first book “The Large-Scale Structure of Space-Time”. In 1974, he discovered “Hawking radiation” which is considered an important breakthrough in theoretical physics. In 1981, he introduced work suggesting that the universe may have no beginning or end. In 1983, Stephen Hawking collaborated with James Hartle to introduce the “Hartle-Hawking State” model. This model proposes that before the Bing Bang, time did not exist and that the concept of a cosmic beginning was meaningless. In 1988, he released the book “A Brief History of Time”, successfully popularizing modern physics to the public. In 1993, he published a collection of articles on black holes and the Bing Bang. In 2001, his book “The Universe in a Nutshell” predicted the future of the universe. In 2010, he released the book “The Grand Design” that asked the ultimate questions about life, the universe, and all things. If these questions can be answered, man will also fulfill the ultimate goal of humanity.

During coffee time, Stephen Hawking and his colleagues shared ideas and clarified research topics.

During coffee time, Stephen Hawking and his colleagues shared ideas and clarified research topics.

For more than 40 years, Stephen Hawking had been trying to unify quantum theory and relativity to explain all aspects of the physics of the universe. With his dedication, Stephen Hawking is considered the great scientist of mankind, the brightest star in modern cosmology.

Victory of intellectual power

Along with great contributions to science, Stephen Hawking’s life is an inspiration for extraordinary will and energy to live, he was honored as a symbol of human intellectual strength. Shortly after his 21st birthday, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). It is a motor neuron disease that causes severe physical disability. Doctors predicted he might die before the age of 24. Faced with the limit of the time he had to live; he developed an intense sense of purpose in his life.

Stephen Hawking loved social activities, he especially considered interaction an important part of life as well as work. Stephen was once a student of physicist Dennis Sciama – one of the founders of modern cosmology, Dennis always said that going to coffee was more important than going to a conference, with coffee, we could meet all who need to talk with. During his early years as a doctoral student in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, Stephen Hawking participated in daily group discussions with fellow members of the research team. The group would meet at 11 a.m. for coffee and to discuss new ideas.

In the account of Doctor of Astronomy Robert Smith, in the early years of ALS, Stephen Hawking was still carrying a coffee cup with his cane to see his colleagues. Everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and analyze them together. Despite his illness, Stephen was always fully engaged in these discussions. The book “Stephen Hawking A Life In Science” by Michael White and John Gribbin also recalls the period when Stephen Hawking was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics and had his own office at Cambridge University, Stephen Hawking still kept the habit of organizing coffee sessions at 11 a.m. with his students.

Stephen Hawking's relics, including the coffee maker, are kept at the Science Museum in London

Stephen Hawking’s relics, including the coffee maker, are kept at the Science Museum in London

Until the loss of hand motor control resulted in the inability to write down long formulas, Stephen Hawking continued to study astrophysics using graphs and pictorial symbols. Physicist Werner Israel once compared Stephen Hawking’s computational complexity to Mozart composing an entire symphony in his mind. One of his famous movies titled “The theory of everything” has a very special moment. On a train, Stephen Hawking looked down at his coffee cup and noticed swirls around a focal point. To most people, this observation was trivial, but for Hawking, the image sparked the inspiration for the theory of determining the direction of time. In lectures, he often used the image of a coffee cup falling into pieces as an easy-to-understand example for the arrow of time theory.

"The theory of everything" - the movie about the extraordinary life and efforts of scientist StephenHawking - is one of the films devotedly selected by the Founder - Chairman of Trung Nguyen Legend Group Dang Le Nguyen Vu into the Life Changing Foundational Film Cabinet.

“The theory of everything” – the movie about the extraordinary life and efforts of scientist Stephen Hawking – is one of the films devotedly selected by the Founder – Chairman of Trung Nguyen Legend Group Dang Le Nguyen Vu into the Life Changing Foundational Film Cabinet.

Stephen Hawking surprised the medical field when he lived to the age of 76, moreover leaving the world with great scientific works. Stephen Hawking was awarded countless prestigious awards such as: Albert Einstein Award, Wolf Prize, Copley Medal, Fundamental Physics Prize… He became a symbol of the boundless power of intelligence. Stephen Hawking overcame the limitations of his illness, determined to pursue his aspiration to do science to the end, to bring scientific light to fully describe the universe in which humanity lives. The archives and relics including Stephen Hawking’s coffee maker are kept at the Science Museum in London, the same place as the archives of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

The movie “The theory of everything” has been devotedly selected by the Founder – Chairman of Trung Nguyen Legend Group Dang Le Nguyen Vu to be in the Life Changing Foundational Film Cabinet to convey a meaningful message about the extraordinary life of the scientist Stephen Hawking. He once said: “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up”, with the power of an unlimited mind, a positive attitude, he lived a glorious and fulfilling life.

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Source: “The Philosophical Way of Coffee” – copyright by Trung Nguyen Legend