Physics teacher explains Hawking’s impact

Hibshman provides perspective on astrophysicist’s death


Catherine Jasper

Books by and about Stephen Hawking are part of science teacher Mr. Adam HIbshman’s classroom library.

Catherine Jasper , Co-Editor-in-Chief

On March 14, the world lost renowned astrophysicist and pop culture icon Stephen Hawking. 

Besides being known for his amazing work while living with ALS, some of Hawking’s theories changed the way both physicists and regular people viewed the universe.

Physics and astronomy teacher Mr. Adam Hibshman said, “I think people may have gathered from his work that physics is very complicated and very hard to understand.”

Although Hibshman teaches both astronomy and physics, he says most of Hawking’s theories are too advanced to be understood at the high school level. Hawking is most famous for combining Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum field theory to prove black holes radiate particles, aptly named Hawking particles in his honor.

“In IB physics we will talk about cosmology and astrophysics, cosmology being the study of the evolution of the universe, and astrophysics being the study of black holes and things like that. It’s hard to talk about the stuff he figured out because it is so complicated and it’s hard to bring down to the level that you can talk about it in a high school classroom,” Hibshman said.

Hawking also helped answer the question of what existed before the Big Bang: nothing.

“It’s like asking what’s north of the North Pole? It doesn’t really make sense to ask that question. What you can say is that everything is south of the North Pole. So saying what happened before the Big Bang doesn’t make sense, all you can say is what we know after that. So one of the important contributions of Hawking was to realize that there really wasn’t anything before the Big Bang. Now, (neither) Hawking nor anyone has been able to answer why there was a Big Bang, and that’s still an open question in physics that we’re not really sure about,” Hibshman said.

Even though most of Hawking’s work is complicated, Hibshman still believes Hawking can teach students about the joys of physics. He said, “I read (Hawking’s book) A Brief History of Time before I really knew that much about physics, and most of it was like, ‘Woah.’ Understanding some of the things he talks about in his books does give you that kind of ‘Woah’ feeling, especially when you understand some of the deeper things he figured out.”

Hawking made appearances in popular television shows such as “The Simpsons” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and a movie about his life, “The Theory of Everything,” won Academy Awards. “I think to see someone face so much adversity and still be considered one of the brightest minds of our generation I think people can see that, and get interested in physics and wonder what all the fuss is about with this Hawking guy,” Hibshman said.

Hawking was mainly known for his mathematical proof that black holes actually radiate particles rather than simply being an absence of anything in space. Even with this work, Hibshman said, “One of the sad things about Hawking is, (because) it is so hard to actually look at black holes, we’ll probably never confirm (his theory) experimentally. This is why he never won a Nobel prize. He would have won a Nobel prize if we could ever experimentally measure what he predicted.”

While Hawking was not recognized this way, there is no question that he left a lasting impact on this world. As Hibshman said, “In terms of modern physics, people like Kip Thorne, Albert Einstein, Richard Feinman and Stephen Hawking are the big hitters in physics.”