Studying under Stephen Hawking was a wonderful experience, says his former student Raychaudhury of IUCAA
Somak Raychaudhury, astrophysicist and director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune who was fortunate to have the great physicist as one of his professors in the University of Cambridge, shares his thoughts about the legend with Hindustan Times.pune Updated: Mar 15, 2018 14:57 IST
Stephen Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space even as his body remained paralysed by disease, died on Wednesday. Somak Raychaudhury, astrophysicist and director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune who was fortunate to have the great physicist as one of his professors in the University of Cambridge, shares his thoughts about the legend with Hindustan Times.
You were Stephen Hawking’s student. Explain your association with him?
I studied and worked in the University of Cambridge from 1986 onwards for many years. Stephen Hawking was one of my professors at the university, where I was a student and then a research fellow. As a student of Astrophysics, I got to attend many of his lectures, which was a unique experience. I have attended several of his courses on black holes and cosmology and continued to meet him, on several occasions.
As his student, how do you remember Stephen Hawking?
Hawking suffered from a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease or Lou Gehrig's disease, that paralysed him. He was always on a wheelchair. He would compose the spoken version for each of his lectures, using one finger and a button, which was specially designed for his use. He communicated through a speech synthesizer which generated a voice for the words he wrote using the single button. After his lecture, when students asked him questions, he answered them with few words using the button and the voice synthesizer, which was an amazing experience for others in the room.
What would you say about the contribution of Stephen Hawking in introducing cosmological concepts to the general public?
Stephen Hawking’s book ‘A Brief History of Time’ has been instrumental in introducing various cosmological concepts to the general population. This book has also inspired generations of students to become physicists. 'A Brief History of Time' was first delivered as a series of lectures, which was compiled into a book later on. I was fortunate enough to be able attend many of these lectures, even before this book was published. Hawking perfected the art of writing, for people of all ages. He became an iconic scientist and author to the general public. He made science simpler for all, which helped him gain immense popularity.
Explain Stephen Hawking’s uniqueness?
Stephen Hawking was seriously disabled from his teenage years. Doctors had actually given him only two years to live. He remained in a wheelchair, being unable to move most of his body, for almost all his life. Yet his research and achievements have been phenomenal. His life journey, through these 76 years, is in itself extremely unique. He is an inspiration not just for people suffering from disability, but for everyone of us, showing us that nothing is impossible if one has the willpower.