In 1963, doctors diagnosed 21-year-old Oxford student Stephen Hawking with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and informed him he had two years to live.
They ended up being off by five-and-a-half decades. The world is unquestionably better for their error.
In retrospect, there are signs Dr. Hawking was destined to say important things about our physical universe. He was born 300 years to the day after Galileo died; he would later hold the same teaching job as Sir Isaac Newton, and he died on Mar. 14, the anniversary of Albert Einstein’s death.
Comparisons to Dr. Einstein are inevitable and in many ways apt. Both explored similar fields and sought answers to profound questions about our universe, and became pop-culture icons in the process – the physicist as global rock star.
Dr. Hawking’s scholarly contributions are indelible. Among other things, he broke new ground on quantum theory, the properties of black holes, and the origins of the universe. His theories will continue to be studied, debated and expanded upon for decades.
But for the broader public, his legacy will endure thanks to an uncommon gift for transmitting complicated ideas.
The ability to awaken others to the mysteries and beauty of science can itself be an expression of genius. Scientific inquiry is fundamental to human progress but, in a world of competing priorities, it needs inspirational champions.
People like Stephen Hawking.