Today, Pi Day 2018, at age 76, Stephen Hawking passed.

Though nearly everyone knows his contributions to physics and astrophysics are nearly peerless, few understand his work. Even as I earned my PhD in astrophysics at Columbia University, his work was beyond my studies (though one of my professors was a mutual friend). But then Hawking did theoretical work and I was helping build an observational satellite.

Even so, he expanded many horizons. Everyone can learn from him as a human.

Stephen Hawking, the man

At 21 years of age, after showing symptoms of the paralysis that would eventually take over nearly his whole body, doctors diagnosed him with a rare form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In particular, they gave him two years to live.

That was 1963. 55 years ago.

You don't need to know the details of what followed--mind-bending discoveries, bestselling books, collaborations with global luminaries, prizes, state honors, medals, appearances on the Simpsons, and more (his Wikipedia page lists plenty)--to know his contributions to humanity rank among the greats of all time.

Stephen Hawking and you

Thinking of Stephen Hawking and his obstacles:

What do you want to achieve in life?

What are you capable of?

What is holding you back?

What obstacles can you overcome?

Because for more than half a century Hawking could only look ahead to more paralysis. He communicated using a single cheek muscle. And look at what he achieved.

We have the ability to make his greatest contribution his influence on others, to motivate and enable us to go beyond our imagined limits.

In his words:

I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.


Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.