Physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who contributed significantly to theories around black holes and quantum mechanics, has died aged 76.
Hawking passed away peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
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.”
His work ranged from the origins of the universe, through the tantalising prospect of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes.
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 no fewer than 237 weeks.
He said he wrote the book to convey his own excitement over recent discoveries about the universe.
“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.”
He was particularly proud that the book contains only one mathematical equation - relativity’s famous E=MC².
Hawking was severely disabled, suffering from motor neurone disease since an early age that limited his movement considerably.
He used a voice synthesiser to communicate ever since he lost his speech in 1985, due to a tracheotomy after suffering a bout of pneumonia.
As time went on, his movements became increasingly limited which meant his rate of communication dwindled to about one word a minute in recent years.
Hawking began his university education at University College, Oxford, in October 1959 at the age of 17.
For the first 18 months, he was bored and lonely – he found the academic work “ridiculously easy”.
His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said, “It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it.”
As a graduate he went on to study cosmology at Cambridge University, ultimately receiving a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College which flew its flag at half-mast today as a mark of respect to Hawking.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of the first to pay tribute to him.
“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. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018,” he wrote, after sharing a photo of himself and Hawking on Twitter.
“Engineering necessarily relies on physics, fundamental physics at that,” said James Baldwin, senior scientific editor at the IET who was speaking about Hawking’s achievements.
“What seem to be abstract or remote discoveries in physics, from quantum mechanics to general relativity, eventually create technology.”
“A computer works because of quantum mechanics, satellite navigation works because of the general theory of relativity.
“Hawking was certainly very important in the development of classical general relativity and also its connection with quantum mechanics. His discoveries in this area, while not immediately apparent in any engineering or technology applications straight away, eventually trickle down and engineering becomes totally reliant on them.
“His work was extremely important and extremely fascinating. It shed light on the big bang theory and black holes which are totally fundamental to our understanding of physics and did all that in extremely trying circumstances.
“Because of his disability, it made him a public figure and it brought physics and science into the public consciousness in a way that it perhaps wasn’t before.”
In November 2017, Hawking said that technological advances could help to combat global poverty and environmental destruction but warned that artificial intelligence needs to be controlled or it could do severe damage to humanity.