Why Stephen Hawking Never Won The Nobel Prize in Physics?

This is a guest article by Radhika Bhangar from Maharashtra, India.

" I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions. Occasionally, I find an answer."

He was the 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. He whose work with Sir Roger Penrose on Einstein's general theory of relativity showed that there was an implied beginning of space and time - The Big Bang and an end, through Black Holes. He who has great impact on theoretical physics.


Why the most prestigious award of his field was eluded from him throughout his lifetime? Why didn't Stephan Hawking never win a Nobel Prize in Physics?

The answer unlike Quantum Mechanics is relatively straight forward. For legendary astrophysicist Stephan who redefined cosmology by proposing that black holes are mortal, Nobel Prize remained elusive as the theory cannot be observed or verified. Even though it is now firmly accepted in theoretical physics, there is no way to verify it.

Timothy Ferris, author of " The Science of Liberty " said, " Black holes are to long-lived to be observed today in their death throes," in National Geographic. " Hawking probably would have won the prize had nature provided observational confirmation. But that won't happen for billions of years, till the first star-size black hole star exploding" he added.


The moment when he was filled with an idea that he described as "Moment of ecstasy" was in back 1970 when he thought that black holes, previously assumed to be more or less immortal, could instead slowly lose mass and eventually evaporate, exploding in a flash of gamma rays. His black hole research is now firmly embedded in theoretical physics as it united relativity ( a classical theory, in which everything is smooth as silk) with quantum mechanics ( in which everything is grainy) and spurred progress in information theory.


The Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously. 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 a scientific equipment to test theoretical discoveries; to put in context, Einsteins's theory of gravitational waves in space, which he first proposed in the 1920's was only recently proven in 2016.

One of his prominent finding was "Hawking Radiation", this theory suggests that black holes are not completely black after all, but emitted radiations will take years and cost millions before this theory can ever be verified.

Prof. Hawking told Comedian Dara O'Briain during a lecture that he will not be able to spot Hawking radiation coming out of black holes. But another kind of radiation might be detectable, leading to prove the theory.



The new work which is written with Cambridge University's Malcolm J Perry and Harvard's Andrew Strominger - claims to be able to show concrete proof of that argument. That would be important because it would put prof. Hawking in line for a Nobel, which can't be won without experimental evidence of scientist's claims. Perry says to The Times,

I am now studying whether one might detect Hawking Radiation in primordial gravitational waves. So I might get a Nobel Prize after all.

But some have already criticized prof. Hawking's paper which has not gone through a formal preview process. Sabine Hossenfelder of the Nordic Institute writes in her blog,

I am not at all convinced that the new idea proposed by Hawking, Perry, and Strominger solves the information loss problem. But it seems an interesting avenue that is worth further exploration.

Even though Prof. Hawking never won the top honor in Sweden, but as an ambassador for the sciences his influence was profound, as shown by the world leaders and celebrities who took social media to pay tribute. He is considered by many once-in-a-generation genius. The author of A Brief History of Time, he was the living legend who revolutionized the world of astrophysics.


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