Ever since the dawn of civilization,” Stephen Hawking wrote in his international bestseller A Brief History of Time, “people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world.”
Explore the deepest mysteries at the frontier of fundamental physics, and the most promising ideas put forth to solve them.
In the quest for a unified, coherent description of all of nature — a “theory of everything” — physicists have unearthed the taproots linking ever more disparate phenomena. With the law of universal gravitation, Isaac Newton wedded the fall of an apple to the orbits of the planets. Albert Einstein, in his theory of relativity, wove space and time into a single fabric, and showed how apples and planets fall along the fabric’s curves. And today, all known elementary particles plug neatly into a mathematical structure called the Standard Model. But our physical theories remain riddled with disunions, holes and inconsistencies. These are the deep questions that must be answered in pursuit of the theory of everything.
Our map of the frontier of fundamental physics, built by the interactive developer Emily Fuhrman, weights questions roughly according to their importance in advancing the field. It seemed natural to give greatest weight to the quest for a theory of quantum gravity, which would encompass general relativity and quantum mechanics in a single framework. In their day-to-day work, though, many physicists focus more on rooting out dark matter, solving the Standard Model’s hierarchy problem, and pondering the goings-on in black holes, those mysterious swallowers of space and time. For each question, the map presents several proposed solutions. Relationships between these proposals form a network of ideas.
The map provides concise descriptions of highly complex theories; learn more by exploring the links to dozens of articles and videos, and vote for the ideas you find most elegant or promising. Finally, the map is extensive, but hardly exhaustive; proposed additions are welcome below.
Dr. Stephen Hawking delivers a speech entitled ‘Why we should go into space’ on April 21, 2008, at George Washington University’s Morton Auditorium in Washington, DC.
Stephen Hawking gave an interview to Piers Morgan on “Good Morning Britain”, where he confirmed that he’ll be going to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship. Branson actually offered him the trip in 2015 for free, and Hawking says “since that day, I have never changed my mind.”
When the flight will be we don’t yet know. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwowas previously slated to launch at the end of 2017, but no hard date has been announced yet.
Hawking’s spaceflight will be an amazing feat for the 75-year-old scientist, known for his work in physics and cosmology, adding another chapter to an already remarkable life. When he was only 21, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This rare neurogenerative disease is deadly and Hawking was told he had 2 years to live.
50+ years later, Hawking is still going strong (and going to space). Paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, speaking through a specially-designed computer system since 1985, the scientist has achieved more than most do in a lifetime, not letting the debilitating disease slow him down.
Hawking has done groundbreaking work on black holes, discovering (along with James Bardeen and Brandon Carter) four laws of black holes mechanics.
His 1974 “Hawking radiation” theory that black holes are slowly evaporating due to particles robbing them of energy can still land him a Nobel Prize as recent research appears to prove it.
He has also done outstanding work on gravitational singularities, one-dimensional points that have infinite mass in infinitely tiny spaces. Cooperating with mathematician Roger Penrose, Hawking proved the existence of singularities and proposed key theorems on their origins.
Stephen Hawking, date unconfirmed but likely in 1990s.
His other scientific achievements include pioneering work on cosmic inflation and the early state of the universe (which Hawking proposed had no time or beginning).
Hawking is also famous for being one of the world’s most popular science educators, writing numerous books like the bestseller “A Brief History of Time,” which sold more than 10 million copies.
How did Hawking, who also has been a professor of mathematics at University of Cambridge for the 30 years, thrive despite the illness? In an interview with Scientific American, ALS expert and professor of neurology Leo McCluskey, called Hawking “an outlier”. His case is exceptional and probably represents just a few percent of ALS patients. If Hawking developed the disease while still a teenager, it could be a “juvenile-onset” variant that progresses very slowly. He has also had great care.
How will Hawking fare in space? We don’t know the details of Virgin Galactic flight yet but Hawking seems quite enthusiastic:
“I can tell you what will make me happy, to travel in space. I thought no one would take me but Richard Branson has offered me a seat on Virgin Galactic and I said yes immediately.”