Black holes and the early universe: stimulating a greater interest in science

The ability of Stephen Hawking (1942–2018) to share his research with people of all ages and educational backgrounds stimulated public interest and increased understanding of fundamental scientific research.

His public lectures, books, TV, film and social media allowed millions of people from all educational backgrounds to engage with his research, inspiring wonder, curiosity and provoking debate about the fundamental nature of the universe. For example, his 75th birthday symposium in Cambridge reached over 5.4 million people worldwide.

In a December 2019 YouGov survey, 99% of the UK adults surveyed had heard of Hawking, 53% of those aged 18–24 reported that learning about Hawking and his research increased their understanding of the universe, and 39% were more interested in science and technology as a consequence. For those aged 18–24 who have benefitted from Hawking’s most recent public engagement work, 23% were encouraged to study science and technology at school and/or university.

Hawking’s research proved that black holes emit thermal radiation and, using discoveries from string theory, he argued that the information of an object that falls into a black hole is not lost and could escape the black hole in a mangled form. His work constitutes a major step towards the resolution of the ‘information paradox’ relating to what happens to this information – which would be an important advance towards formulating a theory of quantum gravity.

His ‘No Boundary Proposal’ remains the leading candidate for a theoretical description of what happened at the Big Bang at the birth of the universe, which Einstein’s theory of relativity cannot describe.

The wider public has long held a fascination with black holes and the universe, and Hawking drew on his research to inform and disseminate information to the public, satisfying curiosity and leading to a greater interest in science.

His research has also been the basis for numerous commercial partnerships with the creative sector. From 2013–2021, his books sold an estimated 3.6 million copies with an estimated sale value in excess of £30 million and his collaboration on a Discovery TV series, Universe Unravelled, led to the employment of at least 50 people.

“Through his brilliant, easy to read and understand authorship, people like me, an 87 years old lady, are able to ‘See’ into and through time and space.”

– Review on Amazon