Pran Nath, distinguished professor of Physics at Northeastern University recollects memories of Stephen Hawking from the time he gave a lecture at the International Symposium on Particles, Strings, and Cosmology in 1990 and 1991 at Northeastern University.
“People came from all over the country to hear him talk at Northeastern,” Nath recalls, “They were camped outside Blackman Auditorium so they could get in”. Nath recalls Hawking’s seemingly boundless energy. After his lecture at Northeastern, it was late and program organizers were tired, but Hawking insisted on visiting the Museum of Fine Arts. “It was incredible how much energy he had in spite of his disability. That was the most amazing thing about him.”
Stephen Hawking who died last year is one of the greatest physicists of all time. At 21, Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a type of motor neuron disease which would eventually cost him almost all neuromuscular control. He was told that he had fewer than three years to live. However, he ended up living for 55 years after that. He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology, general relativity, and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. “Physics is a subject that requires sitting down, putting pen to paper, and working out equations. Somehow he was able to do it all in his head”, says Nath.
Hawking was an independent thinker who “didn’t follow any conventional rules”. At one point, Nath’s assistant asked Hawking about the charm quark – a type of elementary particle, at a celebratory dinner following the 1990 symposium. His response? “That’s not my area of expertise.” Nath comments “He never pretended to know more than he did.” According to him, Hawking ranks among the greatest physicists of all time. He’s right up there with Albert Einstein, who developed the theory of relativity, and Richard Feynman, an important contributor to quantum theory.