Stephen Hawking is said to be one of the most brilliant scientific minds of our time. Undoubtedly a man of great genius, Hawking is a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge — post once held by Sir Isaac Newton — and a bestselling author. His book, A Brief History of Time, was so popular it was on the British bestseller list for 237 weeks.
Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England. He attended University College, Oxford, where he studied physics. He obtained a first class honors degree in Natural Science after three years. Hawking then went on to study theoretical cosmology in Cambridge. It was in Cambridge that the first symptoms of the disease that would eventually render him immobile appeared. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) inevitably changed Hawking's life.
Contrary to popular belief, however, this disease did not cause him to lose his voice. This development was caused by pneumonia, which he contracted during a visit to CERN in Geneva in 1985. The pneumonia made it so difficult for him to breathe that a tracheotomy was required. The operation rendered him mute.
Stephen Hawking's primary fields of research are theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity. In his own words, he is most interested in examining the basic laws that make the universe what it is. He advocated the unification of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory and is most known for his study of black holes. In 1974, he posited what is now known as "Hawking Radiation" by calculating that black holes thermally create and emit subatomic particles.
He married Jane Wilde in 1965, and subsequently fathered three children. The couple separated in 1991, and Hawking then married his long-time nurse Elaine Maison in 1995. Incidentally, Elaine Maison's first husband, David Maison, was the man who designed Hawking's first vocal synthesizer, without which Hawking would have no means of adequate conversation. Stephen Hawking filed for divorce to Elaine Maison in 2006.
Professor Stephen Hawking is the first quadriplegic to attempt floating in zero gravity. This attempt was made in part to prepare for a planned sub-orbital space flight scheduled to take place in 2009 with Virgin Galactic. Billionaire Richard Branson has pledged to pay all costs of the flight.