Stephen William Hawking is that rare combination of scientist and celebrity whose writings take the obscure and arcane workings of the universe and make them available to general readers. Born exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo, Hawking would eventually hold the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at Cambridge, the same post once held by Sir Isaac Newton.
Hawking was raised in an educated household. His father, Frank Hawking, researched tropical diseases and, eventually, became the head of parasitology at the British National Institute of Medical Research. Frank married Isobel, a secretary at the institute. In 1941, at the height of World War II, the Hawkings discovered Isobel was pregnant, and they decided to move to Oxford, a city which was safe from the threat of Axis bombing because of a reciprocal agreement between Germany and England intended to spare the university towns of Oxford, Cambridge, Göttingen, and Heidelberg.
In 1950 the Hawkings moved to St. Albans when Frank moved to the Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill. It was there that Stephen began his schooling at the St. Albans High School for Girls. At eleven he was transferred to St. Albans School for Boys. Hawking’s father wanted Stephen to follow in his footsteps and study medicine. Stephen wanted to study mathematics. However, as he was following his father’s footsteps by studying at Oxford University, he settled for studying chemistry as his primary subject, along with physics, and mathematics as secondary because, at that time, there was no mathematics fellow at Oxford.
In 1959, Hawking won a scholarship to Oxford, where his intuitive understanding of physics allowed him to complete his degree, with honors,...
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