Remembering Stephen Hawking

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Stephen Hawking’s Legacy Will Live On / View Guide

These questions are based on the article Stephen Hawking’s legacy will live on.

1. Where did Stephen Hawking study and work?

Possible student response: Hawking received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1965 and then studied cosmology there for the rest of his life.

2. What was Hawking’s most famous discovery and when did it occur?

Possible student response: In 1974, Hawking reported that black holes are not entirely black. Rather, black holes emit a faint glow of particles. Today, that glow is commonly called Hawking radiation.

3. How does Hawking radiation occur? Has it ever been observed?

Possible student response: According to quantum mechanics, pairs of particles and antiparticles pervade all of space. Each virtual particle and its antiparticle partner annihilate one another almost as soon as the pair appears. However, if a particle-antiparticle pair appears just outside of a black hole and one of the particles falls into the black hole, the surviving member of the pair can escape. Black holes emit these newly-single particles, which produces a faint glow. Hawking radiation has never been directly observed.

4. Why does Hawking radiation cause a paradox according to quantum mechanical principles? What is one possible solution to the paradox proposed by Hawking and his colleagues? Why is this paradox difficult for scientists to solve?

Possible student response: Hawking radiation suggests that black holes can eventually evaporate and disappear. Any information within those black holes would also disappear. But quantum mechanics says that information cannot be destroyed. In 2016, Hawking proposed that black holes might have “soft hair,” low-energy particles that would retain information about what fell into a black hole. Other scientists have proposed potential solutions. This topic is especially difficult since it combines both quantum physics (the physics of very small things) and general relativity (which describes gravity). A theory of quantum gravity that combines both of those aspects of physics might provide answers, but we do not currently have an accepted theory of quantum gravity.

5. What were some of Hawking’s other research accomplishments?

Possible student response: Hawking studied points in which the fabric of spacetime is infinitely curved, mini black holes that may have formed in the early universe and multiverses (universes parallel to our own.)

6. How did Hawking help to popularize science?

Possible student response: Hawking wrote books that made abstract physics clear and understandable for the public. His most famous book, A Brief History of Time, and others inspired new generations of scientists and science enthusiasts.

7. What disease did Hawking have? What effects did the disease have on him?

Possible student response: Hawking had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease that caused him to gradually lose control of his body. He used a wheelchair to move and a computer voice synthesizer to speak.

8. What questions do you still have after reading the article?

Possible student response: According to quantum physics, why can information never be destroyed? What would it take to experimentally observe and confirm the existence of Hawking radiation? What exactly did Hawking find regarding mini black holes and multiverses? What causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and how could ALS be treated or possibly cured?

9. Write a poem to commemorate Stephen Hawking’s work as described by the article. Name the type of poem that you select to write.

Possible student response: The following is a Haiku:

Luminous black holes

Embracing quantum physics

Stephen Hawking lives