1) Born in Oxford on January 8 1942 – 300 years after the death of astronomer Galileo Galilei – Professor Stephen Hawking grew up in St Albans, Hertfordshire. After being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – at the age of 22, Hawking was given just a few years to live.
2) Hawking is as much a celebrity as he is a scientist, having appeared on The Simpsons, Star Trek and having provided narration for a British Telecom commercial that was later sampled on a Pink Floyd album.
3) He had a difficult time at the local public school and was persecuted as a “swot” who was more interested in jazz, classical music and debating than sport and pop. Although not top of the class, he was good at maths and “chaotically enthusiastic in chemistry”. Hawking has said of his workload as an undergraduate at Oxford “amounted to an average of just an hour a day”. He also said: “I’m not proud of this lack of work, I’m just describing my attitude at the time, which I shared with most of my fellow students. You were supposed to be brilliant without effort, or to accept your limitations and get a fourth class degree.”Despite his workload confession, Hawking got a first and went to Cambridge to begin work on his PhD – but he was already beginning to experience the first symptoms of his illness, having fallen over twice for no reason during the last year of his undergraduate degree.
4) Hawking has credited his marriage in 1965 to Jane Wilde, a language student, as a turning point in his life at a time when he was unsure as to what the point of a degree was if he was to die soon. They went on to have three children – Robert, Lucy, and Timothy.
5) At a meeting of the Royal Society meeting, Hawking interrupted a lecture by renowned astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle to let him know that he had made a mistake. When asked how he knew there had been an error, Hawking replied: “Because I’ve worked them out in my head.”
6) During the 1970s Hawking produced a stream of first class research, including probably his most important contribution to cosmology: the discovery of Hawking radiation, which allows a black hole to leak energy and gradually fade away to nothing.
7) In the 1980s, Professor Hawking and Professor Jim Hartle proposed a model of the universe which had no boundaries in space or time. The concept was described in A Brief History Of Time, which sold 25 million copies worldwide.
8) In February 1990 he left his wife of twenty five years to set up home with one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. The couple married in September 1995 but divorced in 2006.
9) Among some of his more unconventional theories, Professor Hawking has predicted the end of humanity – due to global warming, a new killer virus, or the impact of a large comet.
10) In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge having held many other academic positions. In recent years, Professor Hawking has examined the relationship between science and religion, writing a 2010 book Grand Design, which argues that evoking God is not necessary to explain the origins of the universe.