Stephen Hawking dies at 76: A Brief History of (his) Time, his predictions

Photo: Reuters
I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. 

Stephen Hawking, one of the biggest stars of modern science, had once said this.

On Wednesday, Hawking passed away, aged 76. His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday, confirming his death at his home in Cambridge.

As reported by British media, Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement, “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 for ever.”

The renowned and highly respected Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author among other designations. 

Hawking's masterpeice The Brief History of Timeone of the iconic books of the 20th century, talks of mysteries of space, time and black holes. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explained how the prospect of an early death urged him through numerous intellectual breakthroughs.

In this March 30, 2015 file photo, Professor Stephen Hawking poses for photographers upon arrival for the Interstellar Live show at the Royal Albert Hall in central London. Photo: PTI
Born on January 8, 1942, the famous theoretical physicist suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was confined to an electric wheelchair for much of his adult life. Diagnosed at age 21, he was one of the world’s longest survivors of ALS. The illness left him wheelchair-bound and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesiser.

ALSO READ: Hawking warned Artificial Intelligence could end human race

"At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realise the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir My Brief History.

ALSO READ: Hawking's Indian student remembers cosmology's brightest star

A Cambridge University professor, Hawking was the first to propound a theory of cosmology explained through a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He also showed that the universe had a beginning by describing how Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity eventually breaks down when time and space are traced back to the Big Bang and endend in black holes. 

Hawking's work was also the subject of the 2014 film The Theory Of Everything, which starred Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Hawking's works 

In 1963, Hawking contracted motor neurone disease and was given two years to live. Yet he went on to Cambridge to become a researcher and Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. From 1979 to 2009 he held the post of Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, the chair held by Isaac Newton in 1663. 

Among many of his famous works and theories, the most celebrated work is the Brief History Of Time, with the more accessible sequel The Universe in a Nutshell updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988, earned him worldwide acclaim, selling at least 10 million copies in 40 languages and staying on the best-seller list of the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper for a record 237 weeks. 

The book included only one equation: E = mc2, or the equivalence of mass and energy, deduced by Albert Einstein from his theory of special relativity. 

This book outlined the basics of cosmology for the general reader.

However, as Hawking's fame increased, his health deteriorated. After his degenerative muscle disorder was diagnosed, he defied medical opinion by living five decades longer than expected. He imparted his knpwledge through an American-accented speech synthesiser after a life-saving tracheotomy in 1985 took away his ability to speak. 

A 'Nobel' impact

Throughout his life, Hawking recieved several awards and recognition for his work. He received the 2015 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences shared with Viatcheslav Mukhanov for discovering that the galaxies were formed from quantum fluctuations in the early Universe. At the 2016 Pride of Britain Awards, Hawking received the lifetime achievement award "for his contribution to science and British culture".

ALSO READ: Nobel Prize remained elusive for Hawking

For him, a Nobel Prize remained elusive. His theories required observational data to win the praise of the awarding committee in Stockholm. But this did not prove a hindrance to the works he kept doing with his increasingly deteriorating health. With his best-selling book beside him, Hawking became the most recognisable and influential face of modern science.  

Film and documentaries

Stephen Hawking's life was the subject of the 2014 film The Theory Of Everything, which starred Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Apart from that, he also performed cameos in the US comedy series The Big Bang Theory, as well as The Simpsons and Star Trek.

Here is a list of his appearances and mention in films, series and documentaries: 

  • A Brief History of Time (1992)

  • Stephen Hawking's Universe (1997)

  • Hawking – BBC television film (2004) starring Benedict Cumberbatch

  • Horizon: The Hawking Paradox (2005)

  • Masters of Science Fiction (2007)

  • Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything (2007)

  • Stephen Hawking: Master of the Universe (2008)

  • Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking (2010)

  • Brave New World with Stephen Hawking (2011)

  • Stephen Hawking's Grand Design (2012)

  • The Big Bang Theory (2012, 2014 and 2017)

  • Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Mine (2013)

  • The Theory of Everything – Feature film (2014) starring Eddie Redmayne (Hawking’s name becomes more popular after Oscar-winning biopic)

  • Genius by Stephen Hawking (2016)

Twitter reacts to Hawking's 'peaceful' death

Several scientists, celebrities, journalists and others took to twitter as they mourned Hawking's death.

President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed grief over the death of eminent British theoretical physicist tweeting: 

Sad to hear of the passing of scientist Stephen Hawking. His brilliant mind made our world and our universe a less mysterious place. And his courage and resilience will remain an inspiration for generations #PresidentKovind

— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) March 14, 2018

Professor Stephen Hawking was an outstanding scientist and academic. His grit and tenacity inspired people all over the world. His demise is anguishing. Professor Hawking’s pioneering work made our world a better place. May his soul rest in peace.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 14, 2018

In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.

— The Big Bang Theory (@bigbangtheory) March 14, 2018

Remembering Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist and ambassador of science. His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we & the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014

— NASA (@NASA) March 14, 2018

His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.

— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018

They said Stephen Hawking had 2 years to live in 1963.

They said Stephen Hawking would never speak again in 1985.

He stuck around until 2018 with one of the loudest voices on the planet.

Nothing kept him from his dreams. We honor him by living the same way.

— Adam Best (@adamcbest) March 14, 2018

Still reflecting on Stephen Hawking. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but the injustices in my life and those around me were too urgent to ignore. So many of us have had our paths shaped by injustice. Imagine a world where we could truly achieve our dreams.

— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) March 14, 2018

I have admired and revered Stephen Hawking since I read A Brief History of Time when was a boy. It is with profound sadness that I learn of his death. The world has lost a special human being.#StephenHawking

— Roger Warren ️ (@MissesThe90s) March 14, 2018

Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of The Simpsons

— Matt Selman (@mattselman) March 14, 2018
By 2017, Tephen Hawking was spending most of his time ruminating over humanity’s future and concluding that we should plan to colonise other planets. “We are running out of space, and the only place we can go to are other worlds,” he said. “It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.”

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