Stephen Hawking, the world-famous theoretical physicist, has died at the age of 76. He died in the early hours of Wednesday morning at his home in Cambridge, said his family.
Scientists and famous figures around the world are paying tribute to Hawking.
“Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies; he was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty,” said Martin Rees, the UK’s astronomer royal. “This was Stephen Hawking. He had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and it was thought that he might not survive long enough even to finish his PhD. But, amazingly, he lived on to the age of 76.
“Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive. He became one of the most famous scientists in the world – acclaimed as a world-leading researcher in mathematical physics, for his best-selling books about space, time and the cosmos, and for his astonishing triumph over adversity.
“Tragedy struck Stephen Hawking when he was only 22. He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero. He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus. And what a triumph his life has been.
“His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing will-power and determination.”
“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure,” said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
“Stephen Hawking was a great physicist, a great public communicator, and a great icon for science and rationalism throughout the world. He will be sorely missed,” said Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute in London.
A giant of physics
Hawking transformed our understanding of black holes by combining the two pillars of 20th century physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics. He predicted that black holes should radiate a stream of photons, defying long-held beliefs that nothing, not even light, could escape their clutches.
This prediction, dubbed Hawking radiation, is probably his most influential work, but Hawking spent his life probing many deep questions about the nature of space, time and the origins of the universe.
As a pop-culture icon, he brought physics to the masses and inspired a generation of physicists, most famously with his book A Brief History of Time. In 1963, Hawking was diagnosed with a neurological disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and told he had just two years to live, a prediction that he defied for many decades.
This story is being updated.
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