Physics and our universe: 10 things you didn’t know about Stephen Hawking

physics and our universe stephen hawking studygate

Physic and our universe make for a fascinating discussion. Stephen Hawking made an incredible impact on the world for his ability to understand the universe in complex ways. Here are some of his greatest ideas about aliens and black holes, plus a little about his background.

Hawking believed in aliens

Hawking believes in a low probability of finding intelligent alien life in the next 20 years. With a huge universe, Hawking thinks it’s very likely  intelligent alien life exists somewhere. However, the cosmologist also thinks humans should be careful about contacting them. Such life forms would likely try to destroy us or at least use earth for resources. In 2010, Hawking publicly stated

if aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.

Even so, Hawking supported Breakthrough listen, a research program dedicated to finding alien life but not contacting it.

Hawking was a pop-culture icon

An increasing number of scientists today are developing public personas of their own, but none has made an impact like Stephen Hawking. For years, he’s made public appearances and guest starred on popular TV shows like The Simpsons, Futurama, The Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek. These cameos often showcase his staggering intelligence and trademark dry humor alongside some light good-natured self deprecation. As a result, he’s become a household name for people of all ages. References to the scientist can also be found in a number of songs, comics, video games, and movies. This proves he really influences every part of pop culture.

Hawking was a betting man

Stephen Hawking loves making science bets, but his track record does not impress. He once bet that the existence of the Higgs boson would never be proven. However, scientists found the Higgs boson at CERN in 2012 thanks to the Large Hadron Collider.

Before that, Hawking teamed up with fellow theoretical physicist Kip Thorne in a bet against John Prescott about the black hole information paradox. Hawking and Thorne believed the information that falls into black holes get destroyed, but Prescott said no. The public found out about the original bet in 1997. But it wasn’t until 2004 that Hawking officially admitted his opinion on the matter had evolved.

Hawking was a mediocre student

Like many of our greatest thinkers, school was initially not a great time for Stephen Hawking. Hawking earned average grades at best. In 2010, professor Hawking admitted that he was a lazy student from grade school all the way to his time at Oxford. He didn’t really learn how to read until he was 8:

I wasn’t the best student at all. My handwriting was bad and I could be lazy.

Even so, his schoolmates saw his potential for greatness and nicknamed him Einstein. Fortunately, one math teacher inspired him in both math and science. Mr. Tata opened his eyes to a blueprint of the universe itself. Once he was diagnosed with ALS, Hawking really began to consider his own mortality. He focused on his work to make something of himself in the time he had left.

Hawking was a great rower

While at Oxford, the young Stephen Hawking felt bored with classes and needing social interaction. To try something new, he joined the school’s boat club. Before his illness, he was one of the most important members of his crew. With his strong voice and slight build, the role fit him perfectly.

Hawking actually proved to be a bit reckless, steering his crew through narrow spaces and often damaging the boats as a result. One of his crewmates even labeled him the adventurous type. His dedication made him very popular with his crew and soon his social life was booming with parties and friendly practical joking.

Hawking was British

The casting of British actor Eddie Redmayne as Hawking for the 2014 film The Theory of Everything may have surprised some people. After all, the computerized voice we know and love has an accent that’s decidedly not British.

Today, the digitized voice has become his trademark. However, Stephen Hawking really was born and raised in England. In 1985, he underwent a life-saving tracheotomy after contracting pneumonia. Unfortunately, the operation robbed him of his ability to speak. He began using a specialized computer program to communicate. Hawking spoke with an American accent using his now computerized voice. He also underwent many upgrades to his method of communication after 1985, but he copyrighted his voice and kept it as part of his identity.

Hawking was a prolific writer

Even though he can’t physically write or speak, his old speech system worked well. Hawking wrote five books with it including A Brief History of Time which topped the Sunday Times bestseller list for over five years, longer than any other book besides the Bible and Shakespeare works.

Though he was already famous within the scientific community, Stephen Hawking truly came to the public’s attention in 1988 with the release of A Brief History of Time. He had wanted to write a science book that would actually connect with readers, and he succeeded by covering everything from black holes to quantum theory. It became a best-seller, spending almost 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and selling over 10 million copies.

However, Hawking’s more impressive feat came in completing this comprehensive work even with nearly full paralysis and an inability to speak. Hawking authored many other books afterwards as well including George’s secret key to the universe, a science book for children.

Hawking’s speech synthesizer was state-of-the-art

Stephen Hawking synthesized voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who hears it. Despite his medical issues, his amazing speech generating device allows him to communicate. The first model worked entirely via a clicker clutched in his hand. This led him to select words and commands on a device attached to his wheelchair. However, ALS paralyzed Hawking’s body. He lost the use of his clicking hand. This resulted in an update that allowed him to choose words by moving his cheek muscle. As his condition got worse, a team at Intel added more updates. This made it possible for Hawking to more quickly open documents, construct sentences, and prepare full lectures.

Hawking never won a Nobel Prize

Stephen Hawking was a genius and his theories advanced our understanding of the universe. But his trophy case is missing one of the highest honors in science. Hawking earned other great distinctions by becoming a fellow of the Royal Society in 1974. He also received twelve honorary degrees over the years. However, his known work is the theory that predicts that black holes emit radiation that gradually evaporates.

Because Nobel Prizes are reserved for confirmed discoveries and Hawking radiation is still technically theoretical, no award has yet been granted.

Hawking inspired the world for decades after his diagnosis

After noticing some newfound clumsiness and slurred speech, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS in 1963. The doctors told the ambitious 21 year-old that he only had two years to live. Shortly before this bad news, he had met a pretty girl at a party. Despite his diagnosis he and Jane Wilde began dating and were soon engaged, which Hawking credits with giving him something to live for. Against all odds, Hawking continued to try to live normally for as long as possible.

ALS did eventually take its toll, but not his life. Thanks to groundbreaking technology and the help of family and friends over 50 years later he defied the odds.

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People Come Before Things: A Learning Strategy For A Digital World

Learning Strategy Digital World

by Jacob Hallman

The way students learn is changing in a world of constant connectivity, but that doesn’t mean standards for learning should follow suit. Critical thinking ability, 1:1 investment in students, and time management skills should continue to be the keys for success in education. What we learn should change with the times. How we learn should change with new technology. Our learning habits should never change as they will forever be rooted in discipline, adequate rest, healthy food, and social support. 150 years ago, Harvard founder Charles Eliot realized that US students needed training to act as considerate observers, explore changes happening in the world, and embrace quick decision making to fill new positions in previously undefined careers. This attitude of openness is the key to how humans learn, and Eliot built a new system for a new age rocked by the Industrial Revolution. As for Aristotle, he was a guide on the side helping students apply reason, develop skills in logic, and communicate convincing arguments. Those values still matter today, 100%. Part of the challenge for educating the next generation lies in how to cultivate those sensibilities at scale with new technology. Before technology, the key to success in future educational systems will start with embracing the standards of the past in preparation for the unknown. Comprehension comes before performance on any test score, every day. This is true across industries as well. In music, Grammy award winning producer Quincy Jones wants to work with producers aware of historical context, but standards are devolving:

“…producers now are ignoring all the musical principles of the previous generations. It’s a joke. That’s not the way it works: You’re supposed to use everything from the past. If you know where you come from, it’s easier to get where you’re going.”

If we want to innovate in science, mathematics, engineering, or any other subject, we must learn the best practices of those who came before us. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban had it right when he publicly commented in 2017 about a world where education in the liberal arts will be the preferred field of study in a volatile job market. Students of liberal arts critically examine the past. Pundits, scholars, and think tanks can theorize on the future all they want, but just like in Eliot’s time, young people will have new positions to fill in previously undefined careers. To embrace the future, we must remain committed to classical development and study of acquired knowledge, especially since technical abilities developed today will become obsolete tomorrow. We have an unprecedented array of tools with the emergence of the Internet, and it is critical that students learn how to use them. Strong online learning habits will precede knowledge. The parents and teachers of successful students will stand on the front lines for communicating these values:

Students will learn how to think for themselves.

Critical thinking skills are compulsory. On the Internet, information and misinformation will continue to coexist on the same channels. Students must learn how to evaluate incoming information, consider the origin of the report, and filter out erroneous or fallacious material regardless of whether the insight is convenient or not. Otherwise, learning devolves into a race to the bottom where the loudest voice and most compelling story becomes the truth.

Students will apply discipline in their time online.

Life on the Internet is incessant click bait. Ads and entertainment are synonymously packaged through social media and video content, which are addictive. To learn, students should engage the Internet to learn new languages, to enroll in online courses, to access books, movies, and music, and to conduct research to see what scholars have to say on subjects of study. When engaged in these activities, parents and teachers must train students to stay focused. This starts with avoiding rapid shifts in attention as much as possible.

Students will identify where they spend most of their time.

Ability starts with cultivating a strong sense of self-awareness in young people. Only afterwards can students build on skill sets through Internet connectivity. Furthermore, career choices aren’t a question of passion and following dreams. Teachers and parents owe it to the next generation to help students define and build on what they are good at before giving them resources and access to experts that will stimulate growth. Otherwise, Internet access will provide little guidance to the undirected mind.   These three ingredients form the foundation for meaningful learning. Once complete, solutions to build on a clean and clear mind are in place. Fortunately, there’s plenty of help available! CEO Patrick Brothers leads Navitas on a mission to accelerate innovation in education. He suggests that ‘one size fits one’ as the new way to learn and that this is a distinct shift from the current education system emboldened by Charles Eliot in the 19th century. Eliot would disagree. He saw a world where:

“The natural bent and peculiar quality of every [child’s] mind should be sacredly regarded in [their] education”.

Eliot sensed the power of a child’s unique outlook as something to build on. He was the one who invented the undergraduate major and minor to fit individual learning interests. He just didn’t have the tools to make personalization exist at scale via 1:1 learning. 1:1 learning is the future, and Eliot looked at student development as a matter of faith and God-given ability. The knowledge economy championed by Brothers looks at student development as a market opportunity. Regardless of the point of view, both Eliot and Brothers could recognize the cultivating of the individual mind as an individual process.

The upper class has always invested heavily in the education of their children, but the market opportunity of 1:1 learning combined with the cost savings of scale will make this service available to increasingly large sectors of the population. 1:1 learning will be especially important as families trend toward dual-income middle-class homes with little time to drive their child to the nearest tutoring center. 1:1 learning will be especially important as digital natives grow up in a world of constant connectivity. Getting caring and competent adults as a service for 1:1 learning has been traditionally hard to scale, but prices are coming down quickly. 1:1 learning can affordably accelerate personalization, and there are tremendous advantages to finding a tutor on the Internet.

As technology continues to improve with the eventual arrival of singularity, there will always be an added benefit to working with a teacher tangibly invested in a student’s learning process. Even if an entire human being was successfully replicated and digitized, the difference between a computer and a person will always have an emotional distinction. A human cares about my learning progress. A bot tweets my milestone on my MOOC. Secondly, learning requires that a student fundamentally admits that they have not mastered the content. The embarrassment of that admission can be reduced by finding a tutor online, an individual disconnected from the social stigma of someone in real life that a student might feel judged by. Besides reducing travel time, a third reason for online learning is that it increases efficiency by adding focus to learning sessions via a medium where tutors are literally on the clock. The tutor’s future work opportunity depends on their ability to provide timely input and avoid unrelated tangents. Finally, students can use online learning sessions to freely connect remotely with classmates who can empathize with their learning challenge and help explain subject material directly.

The bottom line is that 1:1 learning with teachers and classmates offers a pragmatic and effective 1-2 punch available within clicks. Having worked in education for 10 years, I see a world where the quality of learning is diminishing because of digital solutions that separate humans from each other and simplify the complex to the point of irrelevancy. This is accented by an ineffective test-bound system teaching a generation of students that the answer matters more than the process of getting to that answer and appreciating the meaning of that answer. As a result, the quantity of knowledge students bring to established college programs is diminishing on an annual basis.

The systems of higher education aren’t changing, but our ability to think independently, stay focused, and increase self-awareness is trending down. It is time for that to change. It is time to make technology a part of the solution by efficiently connecting students with talented tutors. At home, students need adults that can help build effective learning habits. Online, students do not need scalable learning management systems and multimedia interactive curriculums. This is a recipe for diluted learning because knowledge starts with engagement with people first, not technology. Ultimately, successful learning is impossible without the core needs of a student being taken care of in their home.

From the Carter to the Trump administrations, politicians have been sensitive to these changes in society. There is a general sense that it is harder to provide adequate sleep, good food, discipline, and social support to children than it used to be. Some single-parent homes might pull it off with the help of extended family, but there is enough racial and social inequality that not every family could effectively overcome these basic needs for learning. Tomorrow’s leaders need support and development opportunities. They benefit when we provide a strong foundation for them to build on. No matter what learning tools are in place, only when we learn how to take care of our young people can they truly embrace the opportunities around them to excel.

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From Small Talk to Big Talk: Having Meaningful Conversations Post-College

From Small Talk to Big Talk: Having Meaningful Conversations Post-College

by Katie Chang

Hi everyone! My name is Katie and this is my first post on the StudyGate Blog!


The other week, I awoke to the terrible news of another school shooting, this time in Texas.

Immediately, I ran to my roommate’s bedroom, wanting to talk about this tragedy. My roommate is incredible, but unfortunately she couldn’t talk that morning. She was writing a report before going to work, and frankly, she didn’t want to think about what had happened. There were too many other things to deal with that day. I understood. I know how important her work is to her. But it truly solidified for me how we have become so accustomed to shoving these big issues down, not dealing with them, as there are too many other things to do.

I graduated from college last June and I’ve spent the better part of this past year working in New York City as an actress and writer. Settling in to post-grad life was an adjustment to say the least, and one of the things I found missing from my new normal were the types of conversations cultivated in a university environment. At school, whether it was in class or with my friends, it always felt like we were critically examining something, having productive and meaningful conversations, and gaining new insights from each other’s opinions.

I sat with my roommate for another few minutes while she finished her report. We discussed our plans for the day:

A new face mask she was going to try.

Maybe I would go to a yoga class later?

Does she think Ocean’s 8 is actually going to be a good movie?

And…that was it. Just small talk. But small talk that seemed to be in the place of a meaningful conversation. Small talk as a means to an end. Small talk as pleasantry, without deep thinking. Though still filled with deep love for my roommate, I felt like this small talk needed to be addressed, at least in my own life.


How do we do this now, in the real world, where monotony, complacency and other responsibilities seem to infiltrate life before we can even blink?


So, this week, I decided to get creative. My wonderful friend Kalina started an initiative a few years ago called Big Talk. Her philosophy is to cut small talk and pleasantries to get down to the nitty-gritty in conversations. Through her initiative, Kalina makes Big Talk cards. Think something similar to Cards Against Humanity but with inspiring questions, instead of jokes and innuendos.

Big Talk Cards
Big Talk Cards


I’ve had some of Kalina’s Big Talk cards for a while, and I thought why not use them since I’ve found myself wanting more meaningful interactions lately?

I started at dinner with my friend Geoff,

an uber-talented orchestrator and pianist who works in musical theater. Over chips and guacamole, I presented my Big Talk cards and pulled the first one off the stack. “What makes you really feel alive?” I asked Geoff. He then let out a big laugh. Us New Yorkers aren’t used to answering these types of questions.  With a sheepish grin, Geoff replied:

“That moment, when the house lights in the theater go down, and it’s the quietest it’s going to be for two hours. And then the conductor signals, and we start the show. I love that moment. The anticipation. The joy I get from knowing I’m about to do the thing I love the most for two whole hours.”


His answer astounded me. I’ve known Geoff for two years now, and I know he loves music and his work, but I did not consider the deep connection he has to what he does, that it truly makes him feel alive. His answer was similar to what I would’ve said – although my response would be in the context of filmmaking as opposed to musicals (I cannot carry a tune to save my life). I know that moment before, that quiet, the anticipation of starting a thing that fills you with such happiness and peace you might explode. My moments are when the first assistant director calls: “Quiet on set!” and “Rolling!” These are my cues to take a deep breath, to prepare, and then to let myself go into my character. It is a freeing and cathartic experience, every single time, and I find myself craving when I finish a film and before I start the next one.

By simply asking Geoff this question,

I learned a new way that we are connected as humans and as artists. It made me feel closer to him, and reminded me that small talk isn’t inevitable. I can ask myself and those around me for more, especially if I feel I need more. And the result? Deeper human connection. Finding common ground. Isn’t that what we all want in life? Even in my first Big Talk foray, I learned something new about an old friend. I’m carrying these cards around with me now at least for the rest of the weekend. Who knows who I’ll meet and what I’ll learn about or from them? I want to ask them so many questions.

Some of my favorites: What do you fight for? What is the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done? What was the most impactful event in your life? I can’t wait to hear their answers.

I want to talk about art.

About sadness.

About success and failure and everything in between.

I think what I’m getting at here is that I wish people discussed more the things that frighten them or make them deliriously happy. Somehow, we live our lives smack dab in the middle, AKA in averageness. I don’t want average anymore. I want Big Talk. Off I go, into the world, to make big talk! I hope you do too.


Katie Chang is an actor, writer, and StudyGate tutor that specializes in literature, reading, film, theater, and so much more. If you need homework help, study tips, or one-on-one tutoring, click the button below!




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Fighting The System: Good Students Vs. Academic Dishonesty

Academic Honesty

Students are blurring the lines between academic honesty and legitimate study more and more as time goes on. While the nature of cheating is still clearly defined, students can now find help online in a multitude of ways. It can be difficult to determine what is dishonest and what isn’t.

For example, is it cheating if a tutor works out a math related homework problem for a student to study later? The student did not technically do the work, but the student does not turn it is as his or her own work. The distinction is becoming more and more unclear.

As students go further in their academic careers, there is a greater urge to be academically dishonest. The students who have cheated in the past will continue to do so. But what about everyone else? What about the students who normally perform well, but find the need to find extra help elsewhere? There are many reasons why students cheat, but the most consequential reasons come from the fact that students in higher education are often pitted against an unforgiving system that gives very few second chances.


Numbers Matter

Many rigorous college courses weigh some assignments more heavily than others. It’s very common for a teacher to instruct a course in which there are two important assignments—a midterm and a final, or a final and a research project. The homework has little, if any, influence on the final grade. Students understand that they’ve got to learn strategy if they want to succeed in higher education. It’s not enough to just show up, listen, and do the assignments. You’ve got to know how to work the numbers and figure out what hits you can and cannot afford to take. If both your tests are each 40% of your final grade, and you don’t do so well on the first one, you know you’re performing damage control for the rest of the semester. This is part of the problem. Students will do anything to boost or stabilize that grade percentage. Sometimes, they run into situations that are less about ethics and more about survival.


Full Speed Ahead

The pace of the course is also a contributing factor to why students cheat. You’ve got to be absolutely ready for a midterm in a ten-week course because, again, doing poorly will cost you for the rest of the term. It’s one thing to have difficulty learning at such a rapid pace. Being penalized for it is another matter entirely! Yes, that’s just part of the challenges students face in higher education and they should learn to adjust. But the breakneck pace leads to a lot of anxiety among students who have a lot depending on the outcome of a course. A low or average grade could cause a student to miss out on an internship, university admission, or scholarship. The challenge itself is not what causes academic dishonesty. The outcome and subsequent effect on a student’s life is enough for even the most ethical student to weigh their options more closely.


Learning Factory

Many universities around the country offer courses with an enrollment size of 100 or more students total. Professors often do not have time to get to know each student individually, much less learn their handwriting, work ethic, and learning style. Academic dishonesty becomes much more attractive knowing that the instructor may not know that the student is cheating in the first place. It’s much harder to do in community colleges or schools with smaller class sizes, but is relatively easy in larger university courses.


So What’s The Takeaway?

I don’t believe new technology has any influence over a student’s decision to cheat. The way we cheat today is the same way we’ve cheated 30 years ago, those methods have just moved to an online format. However, today’s students are aware that they have to understand the system they’re engaged in if they want to survive. Every course syllabus explains the weight of various assignments. The student decides what to focus on. If they slip up on a certain assignment, or perform poorly on a test, they understand that it’s not enough just to do well on the next one. Academic dishonesty isn’t necessarily a route for lazy students to avoid applying themselves. It’s also a way for students to stack the odds in their favor. If we want to address the growing threat of academic dishonesty, we first need to understand the situation students all over the country contend with. It’s so much more than just studying and taking tests. It’s strategy, too.


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