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 am quite often asked: how do you feel about having ALS?” he once wrote. “The answer is, not a lot.
“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.”
The news of his passing has attracted an outpouring from fellow scientists.
Inside the shell of his increasingly useless body was a razor-sharp mind, fascinated by the nature of the Universe, how it was formed and how it might end.
“My goal is simple,” he once said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”
LIFE ON EARTH AT RISK
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.
More to come