R.I.P Stephen Hawking

Theoretical physicist/cosmologist Stephen Hawking (January 8, 1942 – March 14, 2018)

Stephen Hawking

British scientist Stephen Hawking, perhaps the best known theoretical physicist of our time, has died at the age of 76. His accomplishments earned him the Lucasian Mathematics Chair at Cambridge University in England, a position Hawking held for thirty years, and once held centuries ago by none other than Sir Isaac Newton.  Hawking’s international best seller, “A Brief History of Time,” arguably made him one of science’s biggest stars since Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan. Tragically, Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease when he was only 22.  He would ultimately be confined to a wheelchair, speaking through an electronic voice synthesizer.  Despite having his brilliant mind trapped within his all-but-paralyzed body, Hawking spent his life attempting to unravel the key mysteries of our universe.  One of his major contributions was the ‘unified theory of everything,’ which sought to reconcile the Einstein Theory of Relativity, which governed gravitational issues, with the newer science of quantum mechanics, which dealt with subatomic particles.

Data’s poker game with Hawking

One of Hawking’s better-known media appearances over the years was a cameo in Star Trek: the Next Generation.  As the story goes, during a screening of the documentary film version of “Brief History of Time,” Hawking was introduced to the audience by veteran Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, who learned that the famous physicist was also an avid Trekker.  This led to an arranged visit to the set, during which, Hawking requested and was allowed to sit in Captain Picard’s bridge chair.  Upon viewing the Engineering set, he reportedly paused at the Warp Core, smiled, and said, “I’m working on that.”  Hawking was also awarded a cameo appearance at the beginning of the Season 6 cliffhanger, “Descent, Part 1.”  In the opening scene, the android Data is seen playing poker with holographic versions of Hawking, Newton, and Einstein.  Data explains that the game is an experiment for understanding “how three of history’s greatest minds would interact” in such a scenario.  Hawking portrayed his own hologram for this episode, making him the only guest in any ‘Star Trek’ series to play himself.

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