Stephen Hawking's partner "could win a Nobel Prize" for his final 'breathtaking' theory
Stephen Hawking was many things. A world-renowned theoretical physicist. A best-selling author. One of the most influential scientists of his time. However, among all of the accolades, there was one thing missing: a Nobel Prize.
Despite being acknowledged as the greatest mind of his generation, the most prestigious award of all managed to slip through Hawking's fingers time and time again. His death on March 14 meant that his supporters' greatest fear became a reality. It was official: Stephen Hawking would never win a Nobel Prize.
Yet, despite Nobel Prize recognition eluding the famed scientist, there may be a silver lining for all of his devotees, with many people in scientific circles believing that the very last paper he submitted two weeks before his death is eligible for the $1.4 million prize.
Described as "breathtaking", Hawking's final theory reportedly could prove the existence of the "multiverse", a space or realm consisting of a number of universes, of which our own universe is only one. The concept of the multiverse stems from Albert Einstein's big bang theory, which was expanded into the idea that our big bang was just one in an infinite number of big bangs that occurred simultaneously — each of them creating its own separate universe.
Some scientists believe that, due to something called inflation, a period of rapid expansion that occurred a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, space-time expanded at an immense rate. As it did so, tiny quantum fluctuations expanded to become the large-scale features of the universe we observe today. Together, these universes comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy and the physical laws and constants that describe them.
As impressive as it sounds, there has always been one massive flaw in the theory: if other universes exist, we have no way to find them, and no way to test the theory. That's why some are naming Hawking's final paper as his "most important legacy". Allegedly, the research lays the framework for how researchers could someday test the theory of the vast collection of universes that exist simultaneously. He and his fellow co-author Thomas Hertog allegedly laid out the mathematics needed to build a space probe that would be capable of detecting powerful gravitational waves created by multiple big bangs.
The paper, entitled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation?,” was submitted on March 4, 2018 and is currently being reviewed by an undisclosed "leading" science journal. However, reports have suggested that if it does prove that the multiverse exists, Hawking could have been first in line to win the one prize that he failed to pocket while he was alive, a failure he joked was "a pity".
Carlos Frenk, professor of cosmology at Durham University, told The Sunday Times: "The intriguing idea in Hawking’s paper is that [the multiverse] left its imprint on the background radiation permeating our universe and we could measure it with a detector on a spaceship. These ideas offer the breathtaking prospect of finding evidence for the existence of other universe.”
But with the committee refusing to grant the award posthumously, who would the honour go to? His partner Hertog could be the man to secure the glory and prestige that goes hand-in-hand with receiving the Nobel Prize. Hertog expressed his disappointment at the situation, telling British newspaper Sunday Times: "This was Stephen: to boldly go where Star Trek fears to tread. He has often been nominated for the Nobel and should have won it. Now he never can."
But could Hawking have actually clinched the most prestigious award of them all? Or are his fellow scientists championing his work? We must remember that the rules assert that the Nobel Prize is given to discoveries that have been proven by experiments, or for pioneering theoretical-methodological developments. Ultimately, it all depends on whether the physicist's work is substantiated through experimentation. If not, it will not qualify for a prize.
This very problem was the reason that Hawking was never able to win the Nobel Prize for his most famous work, which focused on black holes. Disappointingly, much of what Hawking achieved was ultimately without empirical foundation.
Astrobiologist Charley Lineweaver explained to Sky News Australia: "The weird thing about this is that Stephen never got a Nobel Prize, and the reason he never got a Nobel Prize is that Hawking Radiation - which is probably his most fundamental contribution - has never been detected. And even more weird - we scientists are a very sceptical bunch - when something hasn't been detected, we're very sceptical about it. But so many people, almost everybody, agrees that this Hawking Radiation exists and we will find it someday. Maybe not this year, maybe not in a decade, but the science behind it is so profound and shocking and interesting that it says 'wow, this must be true'. And, well, if we had discovered it before he died, he would have definitely had a Nobel Prize."
So, is it time for the committee to bend the rules and allow Hawking to posthumously win the one award that he never got? It seems unlikely they will. Numerous important figures have been overlooked for Nobel Prizes in the past, including Rosalind Fraklin for her work on the discovery of the structure of DNA, and "father of the nation" Mahatma Gandhi for his work in fighting to secure India's independence.
But perhaps the real question is: Does Hawking actually need a Nobel Prize? Held in such high esteem, the man sits aside scientists like Einstein and Newton. With his research, he unlocked a universe of possibility and inspired thousands of people from all walks of life to find out everything they could about the beginning of the universe. His indelible legacy is so well-known to everyone across the world, he was practically science's version of a rock star.
Ultimately, Hawking is a man who is destined to be remembered for centuries to come - and that's something that's true, whether or not he won a Nobel Prize.