Stephen W Hawking (pictured), who overcame a rare neurological disease to explore the greatest mysteries of the universe and became a guiding star to millions of people across the world, died early on Wednesday at his home in Cambridge at the age of 76, a spokesman for his family has said.
In a statement to the Press Association, 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.”
Hawking’s most famous scientific concept concerns black holes. The phenomenon, which become known as Hawking radiation, centred round black holes that leak energy and fade to nothing.
His life was affected by an incurable form of motor neurone disease. After the disease was diagnosed in 1963, doctors gave him 14 months to live. But the author of a Brief History of Time went on to live for decades.
Hawking began using the wheelchair at 30 and at 44, his voice was removed to save his life after he was infected with pneumonia. Since then, he spoke through a computer synthesizer on the arm of his wheelchair.
The degeneration of nerve cells and voice loss could not break Hawking’s young spirit as his intuitive mind freely roamed the cosmos.
In 1974, he floated the theory of black holes emitting heat and popping out of existence. The view sparked big debate. The same year, Hawking was elected to the Royal Society when he was just 32.
Five years later, he became the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge.
Another idea of Hawking that stirred the imagination of cosmologists is how ‘quantum fluctuations’ (small variations in the distribution of matter) might lead to a ‘cosmic inflation’ (period of terrific expansion) resulting in the spread of galaxies in the universe.
But what made him highly popular among common people was his book A Brief History of Time published in 1988.
Like his cosmic ideas, Hawking’s views on the earth we live in such as the future of mankind, his philosophy or religion drew praise as well as criticism.
Hawking believed that a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic politically, socially or environmentally chaotic may not last long.
A sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or, global warming can wipe out life on this planet. So he favoured colonisation of space as essential for the future of humanity.
His comment on religion hurt many. In an interview to Guardian, Hawking said the concept of heaven is a myth, a fairy tale for people who are afraid of the dark.