My earliest memory related to science is from when I was 7 years old. I heard on the news that the universe was expanding. I asked my dad what was the universe, and why it was growing. I don’t fully remember my dad’s (likely wrong) explanation, but I remember it made me curious.
Growing up as a space nerd I pretty much obsessed over any book I could read and truly understand. When I turned 14, I was gifted the book “A brief history of time”, by Stephen Hawking. Although the book had been written in 1988, 4 years before I was born, in 2006 it still felt like an incredibly modern book. Without any deep knowledge of cosmology or quantum mechanics, Dr. Hawking made the structure, origin, development and eventual fate of the universe not simply easy, but exciting.
Reading that book (especially chapter 9), I fell in love with time and space.
With the birth of Reddit, I started reading more and more about physics. As a high school student, it was hard to wrap my head around very complex concepts, so I used to bring notes to my physics teacher, and discuss them over lunch. Sometimes the concepts were hard for him too, but he made an effort to bring them home, learn more and explain them to me in the following week.
As a young science enthusiast, there were very few role models around, Stephen Hawking was one of them. He wasn’t only a remarkable scientist, he was also an extraordinary communicator. Which is so ironical, giving he had ALS.
When I watched his videos or read his books, I didn’t feel stupid or confused by scientific lingo, I felt included and inspired.
I always strived to go places where others have not been before, and to push myself beyond limitations imposed by others, so throughout my life I have gone back to some of Dr. Hawking’s lectures, books and interviews for learnings, and for a gasp of fresh air.
I remind myself constantly of the limitations imposed on him both physically and scientifically. I learned to stand on the shoulders of giants, but to defy the current knowledge by thinking creatively and by remaining curious.
Fast forward 11 years from the day I got my hands on his first book and Stephen Hawking has passed away, having also defied biology and medicine by outliving his diagnosis by a factor of five.
The world lost not only a scientist, or a brilliant communicator, it lost a living role model. Someone people could look up to.
Hawking once said that he admired plenty of dead scientists, but couldn’t think of any living ones, as it was only in retrospect that one could see who made the important contributions. Fortunately, we could feel and appreciate the weight of his contributions before his death.
When a remarkable human passes, it creates space for deep thinking and fuel for change.
Many of us stopped yesterday for a brief moment to read and be inspired by his story and his discoveries.
This simple act stops individuals in their tracks and gets them to look up at the stars and wonder what’s next. This type of wave inspires people to make sense of the world around them, and remain curious.
This is the type of force that drives more “normal people” to strive to be extraordinary.
On one side, issues such as global warming and waste are growing. And on the other, people feel like scientists and experts are snobs, so trust and communication are breaking down.
In this climate, I can’t help but wonder if that the passing of Dr. Hawking, could be the tipping point on a revolution that will see more scientists engaging with communities to drive the change the world needs.