Professor Stephen Hawking’s notable work earned him many awards over his lifetime, yet the pined for Nobel Prize dependably escaped him.
His discovery in 1974 that black holes should emit radiation was initially controversial as it was widely accepted that nothing, not even light, could escape their gravity.
His theory, dubbed “Hawking Radiation”, was based on mathematical concepts arising from quantum mechanics, the branch of science dealing with sub-atomic particles. It stated that this emission of radiation eventually causes black holes to “evaporate” and vanish.
Although it became widely accepted, Hawking Radiation was never proved by astronomers or physicists – if it had, it would almost certainly have earned him the Nobel Prize.
In January 2016, Prof Hawking gave a Reith Lecture broadcast on the BBC in which he joked that his lack of a Nobel Prize was “a pity”.
He said: “A mountain-sized black hole would give off X-rays and gamma rays, at a rate of about 10 million megawatts, enough to power the world’s electricity supply.
“It wouldn’t be easy however, to harness a mini black hole – about the only way to keep hold of it would be to have it in orbit around the Earth.
“People have searched for mini black holes of this mass, but have so far not found any. This is a pity because if they had I would have got a Nobel Prize.”
After the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2013, almost five decades after British physicist Peter Higgs developed the theory in the 1960s, Prof Hawking admitted he was disappointed the so-called “God particle” had been found.
The discovery earned Prof Higgs the Nobel Prize.
The Higgs boson is theorised to give other particles mass, but Prof Hawking said in a speech at London’s Science Museum: “Physics would be far more interesting if it had not been found,” because it would force scientists to develop alternative solutions to the problem of mass.
He joked: “I had a bet with Gordon Kane of Michigan University that the Higgs particle wouldn’t be found. The Nobel Prize cost me 100 dollars.”