“In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.”
Stephen W. Hawking, the physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died at the age of 76 in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
In a statement that confirmed his death at home in Cambridge, Hawking’s children said: “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.”
Prof Hawking’s Timeline:
Stephen William Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on Jan. 8, 1942 — 300 years to the day, he liked to point out, after the death of Galileo, who had begun the study of gravity. His mother, the former Isobel Walker, had gone to Oxford to avoid the bombs that fell nightly during the Blitz of London. His father, Frank Hawking, was a prominent research biologist.
In 1965, he married Jane Wilde, a student of linguistics. Now, by his own account, he not only had “something to live for”; he also had to find a job, which gave him an incentive to work seriously toward his doctorate.
His illness, however, had robbed him of the ability to write down the long chains of equations that are the tools of the cosmologist’s trade. Characteristically, he turned this handicap into a strength, gathering his energies for daring leaps of thought, which, in his later years, he often left for others to codify in proper mathematical language.
Prof Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology as a union of relativity and quantum mechanics. He went on to become his generation’s leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them.
That work led to a turning point in modern physics, playing itself out in the closing months of 1973 on the walls of his brain when Dr. Hawking set out to apply quantum theory, the weird laws that govern subatomic reality, to black holes. In a long and daunting calculation, Dr. Hawking discovered to his befuddlement that black holes — those mythological avatars of cosmic doom — were not really black at all. In fact, he found, they would eventually fizzle, leaking radiation and particles, and finally explode and disappear over the eons.
He traveled the globe to scientific meetings, visiting every continent, including Antarctica; wrote best-selling books about his work; married twice; fathered three children; and was not above appearing on “The Simpsons,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “The Big Bang Theory.”