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Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking passes away at the age of 76

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 March 2018, 14:17 IST

In 1963 at the age of 21, Stephen Hawking, arguably one of the world’s best scientist, was given two years to live by doctors. He was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease or ALS. The illness paralysed him and left him in a wheelchair. Hawking went on to live for 55 more years.

Along the way, in 1985, Hawking was unable to speak because of a tracheotomy and he was in a round-the-clock nursing facility. With the help of a computerised voice system. This was controlled by a muscle in his cheek. “My disabilities have not been a significant handicap in my field, which is theoretical physics. Indeed, they have helped me in a way,” Hawking wrote.

The theoretical physicist died Wednesday at the age of 76. According to his family, he died peacefully at his home in Cambridge. Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on 8 January, 1942 - 300 years after the death of Galileo. Hawking was the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University. This was the same seat once occupied by the great Sir Isaac Newton. Hawking was also director of research at the university's Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking’s three children – Lucy, Robert and Tim – issued a statement following their father’s death.

"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," the family statement read. "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 for ever."

Hawking is one of the most well-known scientists. He dealt with cosmology, a branch of physics that has to do with the evolution, origin and structure of the universe.

Hawking was a worldwide celebrity. He had an international best seller – over 10 million copies in 20 years – in A Brief History of Time in which he wrote about time, mysteries of space and black holes. Until economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, A Brief History of Time was considered “the least-read bestseller ever”.

1970 was when Hawking’s had his first major breakthrough. Along with mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, the two of them applied the mathematics of black holes to the entire universe. They showed that the universe began in a singularity. Singularity is an infinitely dense point of space-time.

Together they showed that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity "implied space and time would have a beginning in the big bang and an end in black holes," according to Hawking's own website. “Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science.”

Later on, Hawking went on to demonstrate that the big bang – the start of our universe – created huge number of mini-black holes. Each of these mini-black holes had the mass of a mountain that was condensed into the size of a proton. His conclusion (https://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_blackholes_theory.html) was that these mini-black-holes would, “thermally create and emit sub-atomic particles, known today as Hawking radiation, until they exhaust their energy and evaporate completely”.

Hawking wrote on his website, in the years before he breathed his last, about the voice synthesiser that helped him communicate with the world. "It is the best I have heard," he wrote, "although it gives me an accent that has been described variously as Scandinavian, American or Scottish."

Hawking often spoke about death that eluded him for so many years. “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

First published: 14 March 2018, 14:17 IST