Physics

How Four Physicists With Disabilities Shaped Our World

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The following physicists are not only impressive for their varied accomplishments, but also for their mental perseverance in the face of adversity.

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Who They Are And How They Changed The World

1. Albert Einstein

You might recall a guy by the name of Albert Einstein. If not, here's a refresher: the german physicist published his renowned mass-energy equivalence formula (E=mc2) in 1905, completed his General Theory of Relativity in 1915, earned a Nobel Prize in Physics for his "services to theoretical physics" in 1921, and discovered the photoelectric effect, a pivotal step in the evolution of quantum theory. What's even more impressive than these stats? Although autism wasn't defined until after Einstein's death, many believe he was on the autism spectrum (possibly Asperger's Syndrome). Einstein had difficulties with social interactions, had trouble learning in school and didn't like to be touched. Others, however, consider his behavior to be a direct result of his passion for science. Along with notable inventors Henry Ford and Leonardo Da Vinci, Einstein also suffered from dyslexia.

2. Isaac Newton

Another passionate physicist, Sir Isaac Newton, has also been theorized to have been on the autism spectrum. Newton often forgot to eat because he was so focused on his work. He also suffered from stuttering and epilepsy his entire life. According to Mental Floss, Newton, a Parliament member, "was so self-conscious about his speech impediment, he asked that the windows of the Parliament building be closed so people on the street wouldn't hear him stammer." Despite these setbacks, the famed English physicist and mathematician is best known for his law of gravitation, as well as several other profound discoveries during the 17th century Scientific Revolution. If that's not enough, Newton also published the book "Principia," widely considered the single most influential book on physics and possibly all of science.

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3. Thomas Edison

Businessman and physicist Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, motion picture camera and the first successful incandescent light bulb. He also suffered from a learning disability, a hearing impairment, and diabetes. Due to his learning disability, Edison was unable to read until the age of twelve. He also developed hearing loss at a young age and attributed his deafness to a bout of scarlet fever during his childhood, combined with several untreated middle-ear infections. Edison eventually died from diabetes in his home in 1931.

4. Stephen Hawking

English physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, well-known in the fields of cosmology, general relativity and quantum gravity (specifically black holes and singularities), has suffered from a crippling neurodegenerative disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or "Lou Gehrig's disease" since the age of 21. Upon diagnosis, doctors wrongly predicted that Hawking wouldn't survive for more than two or three years. But he's still very much alive and continues to contribute to science. Hawking has become a role model for people with disabilities since the 1990s, giving lectures and contributing to various fundraising efforts. In July 2015, Hawking helped launch "Breakthrough Initiatives," which describes itself as a "program of scientific and technological exploration, probing the big questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone?"

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