SCIENCE

Stephen Hawking Opens Up About Teacher Who Changed His Universe

They built his very first computer together.
Acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking found teacher Dikran Tahta's lessons "lively and exciting."
Acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking found teacher Dikran Tahta's lessons "lively and exciting."

Stephen Hawking may never have become a renowned physicist if his school teacher Dikran Tahta hadn't inspired him to become a math professor.

In a new video (below) that the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize released on Tuesday, Hawking remembers how his life changed when he met Tahta as a student at St. Albans School in Hertfordshire, England.

"Many teachers were boring," Hawking says in the video. "Not Mr. Tahta. His lessons were lively and exciting. Everything could be debated."  He mentions that he and Tahta built his first computer together, made with electromechanical switches.

"Thanks to Mr. Tahta, I became a professor of mathematics at Cambridge, in a position once held by Isaac Newton," Hawking says. "When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher."

Dikran Tahta, Stephen Hawking's teacher at St. Albans School.
Dikran Tahta, Stephen Hawking's teacher at St. Albans School.

Hawking admits to being a lazy student with bad handwriting, but he praises Tahta for igniting a sense of wonder and curiosity in him -- and inspiring him to pursue a career in math and science.

Tahta died at age 78 on December 2, 2006.

When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are, we can do it because of a teacher." Stephen Hawking

The heartwarming video is part of the Varkey Foundation's effort to recognize exceptional teachers with its annual Global Teacher Prize, which is awarded to instructors around the world. The inaugural prize was presented last year.

This year's $1 million award will be presented to a winning teacher during a ceremony at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai on Sunday. The top 10 finalists for the prize were announced last month.

"I count my teachers as among the most influential people in my life," said United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in a statement. "Teachers are entrusted with nurturing the potential of the young and helping them blossom as productive and responsible members of society. It is hard to underestimate their value. ... I applaud the launch of the Global Teacher Prize, which recognizes their worth."

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