World-famous scientist Professor Stephen Hawking dies

PUBLISHED: 09:20 14 March 2018 | UPDATED: 20:07 14 March 2018

Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76. PRESS ASSOCIATION PHOTO. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76. PRESS ASSOCIATION PHOTO. Photo credit should read: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

World-renowned scientist Professor Stephen Hawking has died.

Prof Stephen Hawking at SEA LIFE Hunstanton in 2017 with herpetologist Ally Sharp. Picture: SEA LIFE HUNSTANTONProf Stephen Hawking at SEA LIFE Hunstanton in 2017 with herpetologist Ally Sharp. Picture: SEA LIFE HUNSTANTON

The theoretical physicist and writer, who was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease in 1964 at the age of 22, died aged 76 at his Cambridge home on Wednesday morning.

Archive photo of Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76, and Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, with their portraits unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 14, 2018. Photo credit should read: /PA WireArchive photo of Professor Stephen Hawking, who has died aged 76, and Nobel Prize winner Dorothy Hodgkin, with their portraits unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 14, 2018. Photo credit should read: /PA Wire

Dr Robert Ferdmen, 41, a lecturer in physics at the University of East Anglia, said: “He was hugely influential and important. He made a big contribution to our understanding of black holes and the Big Bang. He was a great communicator. He helped me understand the universe.

“Given his health, he was a great inspiration.”

Only last year, Prof Hawking visited SEA LIFE Hunstanton attraction.

General manager Nigel Croasdale said: “We were honoured to have met him and spend time with one of the greatest minds of the generation.”

In a statement, Prof Hawkin’s children Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away.

“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.”

Prof Hawking was one of the world’s most acclaimed cosmologists, a medical miracle, and probably the galaxy’s most unlikely superstar celebrity.

After being diagnosed with motor neurone disease he was given just a few years to live.

But against all odds Prof Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday as one of the most brilliant and famous scientists of the modern age.

Despite being wheelchair-bound, almost completely paralysed and unable to speak except through his trademark voice synthesiser, he wrote many scientific papers that earned him comparisons with Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton.

At the same time he embraced popular culture with enthusiasm and humour, appearing in TV cartoon The Simpsons and starring in Star Trek.

His rise to fame and relationship with his first wife, Jane, was dramatised in a 2014 film, The Theory Of Everything, in which Eddie Redmayne put in an Oscar-winning performance as the physicist battling with a devastating illness.

He was best known for his work on black holes, the mysterious infinitely dense regions of compressed matter where the normal laws of physics break down, which dominated the whole of his academic life.

Prof Hawking’s crowning achievement was his prediction in the 1970s that black holes can emit energy, despite the classical view that nothing - not even light - can escape their gravity.

Hawking Radiation, based on mathematical concepts arising from quantum mechanics, the branch of science that deals with the weird world of sub-atomic particles, eventually causes black holes to “evaporate” and vanish, according to the theory.

Had the existence of Hawking Radiation been proved by astronomers or physicists, it would almost certainly have earned Prof Hawking a Nobel Prize. As it turned out, the greatest scientific accolade eluded him until the time of this death.

He is also well-known for his book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, first published in 1988.

Born in Oxford on January 8 1942, Prof Hawking grew up in St Albans.

As an undergraduate at Oxford University, the young Hawking was so good at physics that he got through with little effort.

He later calculated that his work there “amounted to an average of just an hour a day”.

He got a first and went to Cambridge to begin work on his PhD, but was already beginning to experience early symptoms of his illness.

During his last year at Oxford he became clumsy, and twice fell over for no apparent reason.

Shortly after his 21st birthday he went for tests, and at 22 was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease.

He was rescued by his friend, Jane Wilde, who went on to become his first wife, giving him a family with three children.

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.

Throughout his career Prof Hawking was showered with honorary degrees, medals, awards and prizes, and in 1982 he was made a CBE.

But he also ruffled a few feathers within the scientific establishment with far-fetched statements about the existence of extraterrestrials, time travel, and the creation of humans through genetic engineering.

He has also predicted the end of humanity, due to global warming, a new killer virus, or the impact of a large comet.

Do you want to pay tribute to Prof Hawking? Email sophie.wyllie@archant.co.uk

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