Prof Matt Visser reflects on the life of Prof Stephen Hawking
Professor Matt Visser, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, reflected on the life and work of Professor Stephen Hawkings, after his death on 14 March 2018.
Stephen Hawking was an incredibly gifted theoretical physicist who spent much of his life fighting a debilitating and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease. Scientifically he is best known for the black hole singularity theorems of classical relativity, and for what is now known as Hawking radiation --- a subtle quantum effect allowing black holes to very slowly evaporate.
Classical black holes have been "seen" by astronomers --- certainly the astronomers "see" things that are extremely cold, dark, and heavy --- and at some stage you run out of reasonable alternatives. Quantum evaporation of general relativity black holes has not yet been seen; the numbers make the effect far too tiny for current astrophysical observations. (Unless we get lucky and a micro-black hole undergoes a final burst of quantum evaporation reasonably close by; but just not too close.) Experiments with analogue black holes, not using gravity itself but instead looking at quantum particles trapped by other means, are more promising.
Stephen Hawking wrote approximately 800 scientific articles over his career, and has had a tremendous influence in high-energy physics (quantum field theory), classical and quantum gravity (general relativity), cosmology, and astrophysics. Stephen will be sadly missed by the broader scientific community.