Stephen Hawking, the famed British physicist who battled against a debilitating disease throughout adulthood, has passed away at the age of 76.
Professor Stephen William Hawking was born exactly 300 hundred years after the death of Galileo on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. He was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.
As an undergraduate, Hawking studied at University College, Oxford, his father’s old college, at the age of 17.
After graduating from Oxford, Hawking studied at Cambridge, where he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, at the age of 21. Doctors expected Hawking to live for only two more years after being diagnosed, but he had a form of ALS that progressed slower than usual.
ALS is a fatal, motor neuron disease that causes progressive muscle weakness and atrophy. The disease left Hawking wheelchair-bound and dependent on technology to communicate. Despite being reliant on others to assist him in daily tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and eating, Hawking did not let his physical disability stop him from pursuing his quest for knowledge.
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” – Stephen Hawking
Hawking was able to make several contributions to the world of science. Alongside fellow physicist Roger Penrose, Hawking combined Einstein’s theory of relativity with quantum theory to suggest that time and space would begin with the Big Bang and end in black holes. Hawking also drew on quantum theory to declare that black holes are not bottomless pits; black holes emit radiation and will eventually disappear.
“My goal is simple: it is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” – Stephen Hawking
Despite the complex nature of his work, Hawking was able to simplify the structure, origin, development, and eventual fate of the universe in his landmark publication on cosmology, “A Brief History of Time.” The book was published in 1988 and written in non-technical terms. It became a best-seller with over 10 million copies sold in 20 years. By 2001, “A Brief History of Time” was translated into 35 different languages.
Hawking has several accomplishments to his name. At Cambridge, he was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position that was also held by Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists in modern history.
He also has thirteen honorary degrees and was awarded the CBE in 1982. The Commander in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or CBE, is considered a major honor for a British citizen and is one rank below knighthood.
Hawking’s achievements were acknowledged across the sea as well. Despite being a British citizen, Hawking was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
Stephen Hawking leaves behind three children and three grandchildren.
“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” Hawking’s children Lucy, Robert, and Tim 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 humor inspired people across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
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