Renowned British theoretical physicist and Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking has “died peacefully at his home in Cambridge” at the age of 76, according to a spokesperson for the Hawking family.
In a statement released to several media outlets, Professor Hawking’s children Lucy, Robert, and Tim requested “time and privacy to mourn.”
“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” they wrote. “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, one of the most significant and best-known scientists of his time, began experiencing the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a degenerative motor neuron condition, at the age of 21. Doctors initially gave him only two years to live.
His disease eventually led to his near-total paralysis and confinement to a wheelchair, as well as the use of a synthetic speech device. This, however, did not dim his growing fame, and arguably enhanced his reputation as a survivor who refused to be limited by circumstance.
Hawking’s biggest contributions to physics were bringing “together several different but equally fundamental fields of physical theory: gravitation, cosmology, quantum theory, thermodynamics and information theory.” In 1970, he collaborated with UK physicist Roger Penrose on a paper proposing that a full understanding of general relativity indicates that the universe began as a singularity, and later published work that offered some partial solutions to the apparent incompatibility between general relativity and quantum theory.
In 1974, he formulated the first theoretical explanation of Hawking radiation, which proposes black holes can radiate energy and thus slowly dissipate—or in the case of primordial mini-black holes, violently explode. He later published work on the Big Bang, which took him to best-seller status in the book A Brief History of Time.
Over the course of his career, the Washington Post noted, Hawking rose to the position of Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge once held by none other than Isaac Newton.
In his later years, Hawking was sometimes a controversial figure, issuing a number of dire predictions about energy consumption, robots, extraterrestrials, nuclear bombs, artificial intelligence and climate change.