Stephen Hawking: physicist who revealed universe to millions dies

Cambridge v-c says professor’s ‘exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy’

March 14, 2018
Bertha Ochieng
Source: Getty

Stephen Hawking, the physicist whose scientific achievements in the face of great physical adversity captured the world’s imagination, has died aged 76.

Professor Hawking, who spent three decades as the Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, died at his home in the city in the early hours of 14 March, his family said.

Professor Hawking developed groundbreaking new theories about black holes and relativity.

At the same time, he explained the universe to audiences around the world through books including the bestseller A Brief History of Time, and through lectures and television appearances.

This was achieved despite a decades-long battle with a rare form of motor neurone disease, which confined him to a wheelchair and left him relying on a voice synthesiser to speak. When he was diagnosed at the age of 22, Professor Hawking was given only a few years to live.

Stephen Toope, Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, described Professor Hawking as “a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world”.

“His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy,” Professor Toope said. “His character was an inspiration to millions. He will be much missed.”

Professor Hawking read natural science at University College, Oxford, before moving to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, for a PhD supervised by Dennis Sciama, which resulted in the thesis “Properties of Expanding Universes”. On completing his PhD he became a fellow of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Professor Hawking discovered that black holes should emit heat and eventually fade to nothing, a theory that came to be known as Hawking radiation.

Working with Sir Roger Penrose, he developed the singularity theorems that show how space and time began with the Big Bang.

Professor Hawking received numerous scientific accolades, being elected to the Royal Society at the young age of 32 and eventually winning its Copley Medal. He was made a CBE in 1982 and received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

But it was through his popular science work that he received wider recognition, through A Brief History of Time and also through appearances on television shows such as The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.

A film of his life, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne, was released in 2014.

Professor Hawking was married twice and had three children. In a statement, Professor Hawking’s children described their father as “a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years”.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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