Stephen Hawking death: Physicist heralded as one of the greatest scientific minds ever dies aged 76

The Cambridge professor was known not just for the brilliance of his mind, but the clarity with which he communicated some of the universe’s most profound mysteries

Andrew Griffin,Chris Stevenson
Wednesday 14 March 2018 10:29 GMT
Professor Stephen Hawking dies at the age of 76

Professor Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76. The iconic physicist is known as one of the greatest scientific minds in the history of the world, and worked to peer into the most mysterious parts of the universe.

But Hawking was known also for the accessible way in which he communicated those discoveries, with his work including A Brief History Of Time making its way into pop culture.

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

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.

“His courage and persistence with 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.”

Hawking explored both the very smallest and very largest parts of the universe: testing the limits of human understanding across time and space space, and peering into the sub-molecular world of quantum theory.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, was one of the first to respond to news of his death, saying on Twitter: “We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit”.

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Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for 237 weeks.

Over the years, he would also embrace areas of popular culture, appearing in both The Simpsons and hit US science comedy The Big Bang Theory.

His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes.

His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation”.

“My goal is simple,” Hawking once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe: why it is as it is, and why it exists at all.”

With Roger Penrose, Hawking showed that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

He spent much of his career trying to find a way to reconcile Einstein’s theory with quantum physics, and produce a “Theory of Everything”.

Hawking said he wrote A Brief History of Time to convey as clearly as he could the topics that excited him. “My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time.

“In order to make sure it was understandable, I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

Born in Oxford on 8 January 1942, he attended Oxford University before moving onto Cambridge. From 1979 to 2009, he was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton. He was later director of research in the university’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

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Hawking was confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, after contracting a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 21. As his condition worsened, he had to resort to speaking through a voice synthesiser and communicating by moving his eyebrows.

He was married twice. In February 1990 he left Jane, his wife of 25 years, to set up home with one of his nurses, Elaine Mason. The couple married in September 1995, but divorced in 2006.

In his 2013 memoir My Brief History, Hawking described how he was first diagnosed with the rare disease that he would live with for decades: “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.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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