Today’s Google Doodle honors the late physicist Stephen Hawking on his 80th birthday. Hawking was a renowned cosmologist, and he spent his career theorizing about the origins of the universe, the underlying structure of reality, and the nature of black holes. But he became a household name for the way he communicated those ideas to the public through books and TV appearances.
“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
One of Hawking’s best-known ideas is that black holes slowly regurgitate information about all the matter they’ve swallowed – but it comes out in a jumbled form called Hawking radiation. In 1974, Hawking proposed that the event horizon of a black hole emits energy. Because energy can be converted into mass, and vice versa (that’s what Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 tells us), emitting all that energy into space will shrink the black hole. Eventually, it will run out of mass and disappear.
The mechanics of why black holes emit energy in the first place are a little complicated if you’re not an expert in quantum physics. But essentially, a black hole’s gravity is so strong that at its event horizon, general relativity (the set of principles that describe how gravity works) and quantum mechanics (the set of principles that describe how subatomic particles behave) overlap in ways that cause weird things to happen to particles.
On his 80th birth anniversary Saturday, Google paid tribute to English cosmologist, author, and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking with an animated video on its homepage. The video traces Hawking’s life and work, with a narration by the scientist himself that was generated with the approval of his kin.
Hawking, born in Oxford, England, was fascinated by the universe from a young age. At 21, he was diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease, which slowly confined him to a wheelchair. He lost his speech, and began communicating through a speech-generating device. Google describes him as “one of history’s most influential scientific minds”.
Hawking graduated from Oxford with a BA degree in Physics, before obtaining a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He was obsessed with black holes, with became the foundation for his studies and research. In 1974, he discovered that particles could escape black holes, a theory considered his most important contribution to physics.
“From colliding black holes to the Big Bang, his theories on the origins and mechanics of the universe revolutionised modern physics while his best-selling books made the field widely accessible to millions of readers worldwide,” Google writes.