PROFESSOR Stephen Hawking has died aged 76.
His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning confirming his death at his home in Cambridge.
“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,” Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement.
“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.”
The English physicist was known for his groundbreaking work with black holes and relativity — the nature of space and time.
He was the author of several popular science books including A Brief History of Time and was also the subject of Oscar winning film The Theory of Everything in 2014.
Additionally, he performed several cameos in the US comedy series The Big Bang Theory.
The famed physicist contracted motor neurone disease – a form of motor neurone disease that attacks the nerves controlling voluntary movement – in 1963 and was given two years to live.
Remarkably, the then-21-year-old defied predictions overcoming its debilitating effects on his mobility and speech that left him paralysed and able to communicate only via a computer speech synthesiser.
“I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things it prevents me from doing, which are not that many.”
And even though he admitted to feeling like “somewhat of a tragic character” after the diagnosis, he soon returned to work, securing a fellowship at Cambridge, and married Jane Wilde, with whom he had three children.
Despite his struggles, Hawking had a razor-sharp mind and was fascinated by how the universe was formed and how it might end.
Research director of the MND Association Brian Dickie previously said most sufferers of ALS live for less than five years, which made Hawking’s achievements all the more impressive.
“The fact that Stephen Hawking has lived with the disease for close to 50 years makes him exceptional,” he said.
The news of his passing has attracted an outpouring from fellow scientists.
THE LIFE OF A GENIUS
Stephen was born on January 8 1942 in Oxford – where his parents had decamped from north London for him to be born away from the worst of the wartime bombing raids.
Hawking was one of four children and was the eldest son of Frank and Isobel Hawking – both Oxford University graduates.
Despite his father being a respected medical researcher, his parents struggled for money.
The Hawking’s have been described in many notable biographies as an ‘eccentric’ family who drove a London taxi and housed bees in the basement of their beaten up old home.
His family also produced fireworks, were intense readers and ate dinner in silence.
Even though his father wanted him to go into the medical business, Hawking was adamant in following his own career path.
“Stephen always had a strong sense of wonder, and I could see that the stars would draw him,” his mother was once quoted saying.
Even though he would become known for his expertise in theoretical astronomy and cosmology, Hawking was never considered to be an exceptional student – he was almost at the bottom of his class during his first year at St. Albans School.
Things started to change when he was a teenager, with Hawking and a group of friends constructing a computer for solving rudimentary maths equations out of recycled parts.
In 1962, he graduated with honours in natural science and went on to attend Trinity Hall at Cambridge University for a PhD in cosmology.
The following year, he was given two years to live following his diagnosis and it look as if his studies were all but finished.
After learning disease his progressing slower than predicted and with the encouragement of his uni supervisor Dennis William Sciama, he returned to his studies where he started building a reputation for brilliance.
In 1966, his thesis on the topic of the creation of the universe was approved and he went on to receive a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College, he got his PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, and his essay titled ‘Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time’ gained top honours to win the 1966 prestigious Adams Prize.
In 1974, he became one of the youngest fellows of Britain’s most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, at the age of 32.
In 1979 he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, where he had moved from Oxford University to study theoretical astronomy and cosmology.
A previous holder of the prestigious post was the 17th-century British scientist Isaac Newton.
Hawking eventually put Newton’s gravitational theories to the test in 2007 when, aged 65, he went on a weightless flight in the United States as a prelude to a hoped-for suborbital spaceflight.
Characteristically, he did not see the trip as a mere birthday present. Instead, he said he wanted to show that disability was no bar to achievement and to encourage interest in space, where he believed humankind’s destiny lay.
“I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space,” he said. “I believe life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers.” More recently he said artificial intelligence (AI) could contribute to the eradication of disease and poverty, while warning of its potential dangers.
“In short, success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation.
LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS
Shortly before he had been diagnosed with ALS, Stephen Hawking met a young languages undergraduate named Jane Wilde at a New Year’s party in 1963.
Two years later, they were married.
The couple gave birth to a son, Robert, in 1967, and daughter, Lucy, in 1970. A third child, Timothy, arrived in 1979.
By 1990, the marriage came to an end, with Hawking leaving Jane for one of his nurses, Elaine Mason.
In 1995, the pair were married, although his new relationship caused problems with his children, who claimed Elaine closed off their father from them.
Further drama came in 2003 after Hawking’s nurses believed Elaine was physically abusing her husband and reported the incident to police.
The police investigation was called off after Hawking denied the allegations.
In 2006, Hawking and Elaine filed for divorce, and the years following saw the physicist work on his relationship with his children. He also reconciled with Jane, who has remarried