Here’s Why Stephen Hawking Never Won the Nobel Prize in Physics

Professor Stephen Hawking, who died on Wednesday at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge, England, was considered by many to be a once-in-a-generation genius.

The author of A Brief History of Time, Hawking was a living legend in the field of cosmology. He was most famous for his studies on black holes and relativity, which revolutionized the way we see and study the universe. His work with Sir Roger Penrose on Einstein’s general theory of relativity showed that there was an implied beginning to space and time — the Big Bang — and an end, through black holes.

However, for all his fame and impact on theoretical physics, his field’s most famous award eluded Hawking throughout his life. So why did one of science’s most iconic pioneers never win a Nobel Prize in Physics?

The answer — unlike quantum mechanics — is relatively straightforward.

Theoretical scientific discoveries have to be confirmed by observational data before there’s a possibility of winning a Nobel. And it’s somewhat difficult to observe a black hole.

It takes decades to build the scientific equipment to test theoretical discoveries; to put this into context, Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves in space, which he first proposed in the 1920s, was only recently proven in 2016.

One of Hawking’s most important finds was “Hawkings Radiation,” the theory that black holes are not completely black after all, but emit radiations that ultimately cause them to disappear. The issue is, the technology needed to observe this radiation will take years and cost millions before Hawking’s theory can ever be verified.

Hawking never won a Nobel, but as an ambassador for the sciences his influence was profound, as shown by the world leaders and celebrities who took to social media today to pay tribute. See a selection of tributes below.

The world has lost a beautiful mind and a brilliant scientist. RIP Stephen Hawking

— Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) March 14, 2018

His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018

Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world. His demise is anguishing. Professor Hawking’s pioneering work made our world a better place. May his soul rest in peace.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 14, 2018

In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.

— The Big Bang Theory (@bigbangtheory) March 14, 2018

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