For many people, the image of a super genius saddled with motor neurone disease (MND) has been etched in their minds. Stephen Hawking is that icon of science, the world’s foremost theoretical physicist.

His studies mainly deal with cosmogony and the properties of space and time, especially their so-called “singularities.” The fruits of those studies gave rise to three bestselling tomes, namely A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, and The Universe in a Nutshell. He also penned two publications with W Israel, i.e. 300 Years of Gravity and General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey.

Building on Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Stephen Hawking somehow corroborated how space-time and its singularities were born with the Big Bang, the universe’s primordial explosion. Singularities are irregularities in space-time, to which the laws of physics are inconsequential.

Stephen Hawking has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a rare brain condition that inhibits speech and movement. However, Hawking’s genius far transcends his infirmities. In 1982, he was conferred the title of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his works and named Companion of Honour seven years later. In 1974, the Royal Society named him a fellow, one of the youngest in its centuries-old history. He is also one of the recipients of the 2009 US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hawking currently serves as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, only the third person to be named so. His predecessors were no less than Isaac Newton, who served so in 1669, and Isaac Barrow, in 1663.

Born Stephen William Hawking on January 8, 1942 in England, the physicist enrolled at University College in Oxford University in 1958. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1962, plus a first-class honours degree in natural science. To date, Steve Hawking has 12 honorary degrees.

Stephen Hawking transferred to the University of Cambridge to study general relativity at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP). By 1966, he had gained his Ph.D. degree from the university’s Trinity College. He stayed on for awhile thereafter as a professorial fellow at Gonville and Caius College.