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Stephen Hawking: Visionary Physicist Dies Aged 76 –

World renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76.

He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday, his family said.

The British scientist was famed for his work with black holes and relativity, and wrote several popular science books including A Brief History of Time.

At the age of 22 Prof Hawking was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease.

The illness left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

In a statement his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

 

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

They praised his “courage and persistence” and said his “brilliance and humour” inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”

A book of condolence is due to be opened at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, where Prof Hawking was a fellow.

Prof Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology as a union of relativity and quantum mechanics.

He also discovered that black holes leak energy and fade to nothing – a phenomenon that would later become known as Hawking radiation.

Through his work with mathematician Sir Roger Penrose he demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

He was portrayed in both TV and film – recently by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, which charted his rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane.

The actor paid tribute to him, saying: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

“My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”

The Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which Prof Hawking had been a patron since 2008, reported that its website had crashed because of an influx of donations to the charity.

Tributes have poured in for Prof Hawking since the announcement of his death.

Prof Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, who was at university with Prof Hawking when he was diagnosed, said his friend had “amazing willpower and determination”.

Prime Minister Theresa May called him a “brilliant and extraordinary mind” and “one of the great scientists of his generation”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised the scientist for his “determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos” and his “burning passion to protect our National Health Service.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, said: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking,” he said.

The vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge – where Prof Hawking had studied and worked – Professor Stephen Toope, said he was a “unique individual” who would be remembered with “warmth and affection”.

Prof James Hartle, who worked with him to create the Hartle-Hawking wavefunction to explain the Big Bang, said Prof Hawking had a “unique” ability to “see through all the clutter in physics” and get to the point.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “My memory of him would be… first our work together as scientists and, second, as a human being whose whole story is a triumph over adversity [and] who inspired a lot of people, including me.”

The comedian and presenter of the BBC’s Stargazing Live Dara O’Briain said the scientist had an “immeasurable life” and “one of the few people I would call a hero of mine”.

Theoretical physicist, professor Jim Al-Khalili, from Surrey University said Prof Hawking had a tremendous sense of humour.

He told BBC Radio Surrey: “He was a fun loving guy. Inside that shell, inside that body that was paralysed, was someone who was full of vigour, full of passion for life.”

British astronaut Tim Peake said Prof Hawking “inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.

Gian Giudice, head of theoretical physics at the European nuclear research laboratory CERN, said Prof Hawking had a “great impact” on the centre’s research, adding: “A giant of our field has left us, but his immortal contributions will remain forever.”

Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak said: “Stephen Hawking’s integrity and scientific dedication placed him above pure brilliance,”

In his 2013 memoir he described how he felt when first diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

“I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me,” he wrote.

“At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realise the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life.”

Speaking to the BBC in 2002, his mother, Isobelle, described him as a “very normal young man”.

She said: “He liked parties. He liked pretty girls – only pretty ones. He liked adventure and he did, to some extent, like work.”

 

From the reasons for the universe’s existence to the downside of fame, here are some of his pearls of wisdom:

  • On black holes: “Einstein was wrong when he said, ‘God does not play dice’. Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen” – The Nature Of Space And Time, published 1996
  • On the reason why the universe exists: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God” – A Brief History Of Time, published 1988
  • On God: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going” – The Grand Design, published 2010
  • On humanity: “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special” – Interview in Der Spiegel, October 1988
  • On commercial success: “I want my books sold on airport bookstalls”- Interview in the New York Times, December 2004
  • On life: “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away” – Interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, June 2010
  • On fame: “The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognised. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away” – Interview on Israeli TV, December 2006
  • On living with a disability: “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically” – Interview in the New York Times, May 2011
  • On an imperfect world: “Without imperfection, you or I would not exist” – On Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking, the Discovery Channel, 2010
  • On staying cheerful: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny” – Interview in the New York Times, December 2004
  • On euthanasia: “The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope”- Quoted in People’s Daily Online, June 2006
  • On artificial intelligence: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate… Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded” – Interview with the BBC, December 2014
  • On the possibility of contact between humans and aliens: “I think it would be a disaster. The extraterrestrials would probably be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very happy, and they were the same species. I think we should keep our heads low” – In Naked Science: Alien Contact, the National Geographic Channel, 2004
  • On space colonies: “I don’t think the human race will survive the next 1,000 years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars” – Interview in the Daily Telegraph, October 2001
  • On the end of the universe: “”It will take about a thousand million million million million years for the Earth to run into the sun, so there’s no immediate cause for worry!” – A Brief History Of Time, published 1988
  • On being diagnosed with motor neurone disease: “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus” – Interview in the New York Times, December 2004
  • On death: “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.” – Interview in the Guardian, May 2011

 

Factfile: Stephen Hawking

  • Born 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England
  • Earned place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge
  • By 1963, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live
  • Outlined his theory that black holes emit “Hawking radiation” in 1974
  • In 1979, he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the Cambridge – a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton
  • Published his book A Brief History of Time in 1988, which has sold more than 10 million copies
  • In the late 1990s, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, but 10 years later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science
  • His life story was the subject of the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne
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