Just like the Einsteins and Newtons of the world, Hawking will always be remembered and will be an inspiration to many.
Stephen Hawking, one of the most prominent theoretical physicists, known for shedding light on the nature of black holes and the universe at large, died today at the age of 76.
"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today," his family said in a statement. “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.”
Educated at Oxford and later at Cambridge, Hawking was first diagnosed with motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. ALS is a rare disease where one slowly loses control of motor skills and speech abilities. Doctors then had said Hawking would survive for not more than two years.
Not one to give up on his ambitions, Hawking pursued his field of study at Cambridge with colleague Roger Penrose to make the first of the many breakthroughs in cosmology. By applying the mathematics that govern black holes to the universe, they showed that the Big Bang began at a singularity — a region of infinite curvature in space-time.
Four years later, he proposed that black holes do not only suck in all matter like the cavernous objects science fiction portrays them to be, but that they also emit radiation. This would be called Hawking Radiation.
Hawking stated that black holes also die out, eventually exploding with the energy that was equivalent to million one-megaton hydrogen bombs. He would be met with opposition for this theory as it would contradict with the basic principles of quantum mechanics, which he later resolved.
At 32, Hawking was elected to the Royal Society, Britain’s society for the most distinguished minds in science. He won the the Wolf Prize, Albert Einstein Award, and the Fundamental Physics Prize. The Nobel Prize, however, eluded him.
His ideas surrounding cosmic inflation, where the universe went through a period of massive expansion, and others were encapsulated in the book “A Brief History of Time” in 1988. It was this book that cemented Hawking’s image as the scientist with the robotic voice and his body supported by a wheelchair.
His image would capture the public imagination for decades, and he would go on to be a staple pop culture reference for scientists, appearing in popular movies, cartoons and even TV shows such as Star Trek, The Simpsons and Big Bang Theory.
His life was played out most recently in film The Theory of Everything, for which actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar in 2015 for best actor. “At times I thought he was me,” Hawking said on watching the film.
A Guardian report mentions that Hawking had a strong personality which made for intense sessions of debate with his colleagues. He was also wary of artificial intelligence, and along with the likes of Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, he called for a ban on automated weaponry.
Hawking went on to live for 55 more years after his initial diagnosis. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he had said.
He is survived by his three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy, and three grandchildren.
Just like the Einsteins and Newtons of the world, Hawking will always be remembered and will be an inspiration to many, even as he fades away into the stars.