Which disability activist said, "Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet"?

And the answer: Stephen Hawking.    
Photo credit: NASA.

The famous physicist gave this response when asked about the meaning of life. At 21 years old, Hawking was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease known as ALS with a prognosis of only a few years. Hawking would go on to defy the expectations of his doctors, making a name for himself as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history before passing away in 2018 at the age of 76.

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant mathematician and physicist who laid the foundation for new understandings of space. But did you know he actually received poor grades in elementary school? According to biographer Kristine Larsen, Hawking grew up in a highly-educated family—who purportedly read books around the dinner table—but Hawking wasn’t quite interested in hitting the books just yet. He was, however, quite interested in the mechanics of things around him, and was known for disassembling clocks and radios. And despite his grades, young Hawking earned the name “Einstein” in grade school for his quick wit and sharp mind. By the time college entrance exams rolled around, Hawking put his mind to work, and aced his physics test with a near-perfect score.

From there, Hawking headed to Oxford University, where he studied chemistry and physics. But at just 21 years old, Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gherig’s disease, meant that Hawking faced a prognosis citing complete loss of voluntary muscle control, and just several years to live. Despite this, Hawking had a renewed positive disposition on life. He began dating—and soon became engaged to—his future-wife, Jane Wilde. He dove into his work in cosmology, or the study of the universe, and began producing never-before-seen results. Collaborating with fellow physicist Jim Hartle, Hawking devised a new understanding of our universe: that it is boundless. In 1983, the two physicists put forward the theory of the Boundless Universe, or Hartle-Hawking State, to much excitement in the world of physics.

In his long career in the public eye as a modern-day genius, Hawking amassed many awards and prestigious prizes. In 1974, he was inducted into the Royal Society (the royal academy of science in the UK, dating back to 1660), and a year later, Pope Paul VI awarded him and Roger Penrose the Pius XI Gold Medal for Science. He also went on to receive the Albert Einstein Award as well as the Hughes Medal from the Royal Society.

Did you know?

Yesterday, December 3rd, was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities! While Stephen Hawking is just one extraordinary individual, people living with disabilities across the planet create meaningful, necessary, and profound impacts on our world each and every day. Each year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities seeks to bring awareness to the shortcomings and lack of accessibility framework in our governmental structures, and how we can use our resources to make a difference. Learn more about the movement and how to get involved here.


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