With the news of Stephen Hawking’s death, countless obituaries will be hailing the great man who highlighted the very best in us as a species, triumphing over adversity again and again to reach the top of his field with a great sense of humour along the way. He can be celebrated as one of the first geek trailblazers, making science and technology, even maths, sexy and fun from his futuristic wheelchair. He inspired generations of new scientists and was credited with a list as long as time of honours, awards and accolades, not to mention becoming an icon of popular culture with appearances on the Simpsons, Big Bang theory and even his own Oscar-winning biopic film. However, for a genius who held Newton’s Chair at Cambridge, many have asked why he was never given the highest of all honours- a NobelPrize. This has led to many question whether he should now be awarded one posthumously but the sad truth is that many of those people will have in fact passed away too before one can be given and his work officially recognised.
Despite not facing such persecution like Charles Darwin after his voyage to the Galapagos, Hawking is, in a way, the victim of his field in this case. This is simply the two edged sword of Hawking’s work. He was so far ahead of his time that many of these theories are just that, theories. We simply don’t have the knowhow and means to prove him right and it could take generations to be able to prove either way. By the very nature of the game, anew upstart could pop up in some lab tomorrow and claim it was all a load of rubbish, with a new blackboard of algebra we mortals can barely comprehend. So is the nature of the beast and we’ve seen it happen time and time again from carbon dating to Copernicus.
For example, Peter Higgs’ theory about the big bang and the beginnings of our own universe was conceived when he was only thirty one years old. However, he was eighty six when the Higgs-Boson Great Hadron Collider was built and his theory could be physically proven. Meanwhile, Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves in space has only recently been proven by scientist Kip Thorne. As a result, he went to on to win the prize himself for his work, after almost a hundred years of technological inability and frustrations.
However, all is not beyond hope and if Hawking taught us anything, it’s to twist the odds in your favour. There is a chance that evidence could come to support his theories in future. Work such as that carried out on RSS David Attenborough (previously named BoatyMcBoatface) is gathering evidence of the big bang, the stars and atmospheric debris throughout the millennia from the untouched layers of ice in the extreme poles of our own planet. In addition, Israeli scientist Jeff Steinhauer says he has proven the theory by creating his own little acoustic black hole in his lab. The reason for naming it ‘acoustic’ is that he used sound waves, rather than light or radiation, to prove how Hawking’s theory might physically work, like a person being sucked into a whirlpool but swimming against the current.
For all you Hawking fans it may not be advisory to try to create a black hole in your bedroom like Steinhauerto prove our hero was right. However, Antarctic explorer expeditions are easily accessible and without any risk of being frozen to death or sucked into a vortex in a bid to get that Nobel Prize of the future. Just be reminded that it may be a very long way in the future, but such is the nature of time unless you discover how to bend it. Unfortunately for Stephen Hawking, that was not the case, even after hosting his own time traveller party. A fitting example of the great man and the unfortunate situation which meant he never saw himself win a Nobel Prize. Maybe the best thing to hope is that we now one day live to see it ourselves.