Stephen Hawking: Tributes pour in for physicist

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    In this file photo taken on April 26, 2007 and released by Zero G, British cosmologist Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity during a flight over the Atlantic OceanImage copyright AFP
    Image caption Prime Minister Theresa May praised Hawking’s “extraordinary mind”

    Tributes have been paid to world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who has died at the age of 76.

    The British scientist, who was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease aged 22, is known for his work on black holes and relativity.

    Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, one of the world’s most eminent scientists, described his life as a “triumph”.

    Others described him as a “unique individual” whose death “has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake”.

    The University of Cambridge, where Prof Hawking completed his PhD and went on to become Lucasian Professor of Mathematics – a role also held by Isaac Newton – called him “an inspiration to millions”.

    Prime Minister Theresa May praised his “brilliant and extraordinary mind” and called him “one of the great scientists of his generation” whose “courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration”.

    Many have also praised his humour, with actor Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Prof Hawking in film biopic The Theory of Everything in 2014, calling him “the funniest man I have ever met”.

    Lord Rees – who holds the most prestigious post in astronomy in the UK – said he met Prof Hawking at Cambridge University in 1964, describing him as “unsteady on his feet and speaking with great difficulty” following his diagnosis with a degenerative disease.

    “Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive. He became one of the most famous scientists in the world,” he said

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption Stephen Hawking and Lord Rees worked together in recent years on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives

    “He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero. He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus.

    “And what a triumph his life has been.

    “His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing will-power and determination,” Lord Rees said.

    Prof Hawking’s family 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.”

    Nasa said Prof Hawking’s theories “unlocked a universe of possibilities”, adding: “May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on [the International Space Station] in 2014.”

    British astronaut Tim Peake, who flew in space in 2016, said Prof Hawking “inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.

    The inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, praised Prof Hawking’s “colossal mind and wonderful spirit”.

    The European Space Agency shared a photo of Prof Hawking in 2007 experiencing zero gravity aboard a plane, alongside a caption which said he “showed us there are no limits to achieving our dreams”.

    Comedian Dara O’Briain, who has a degree in mathematics and theoretical physics and is also the presenter of the BBC’s Stargazing Live, called Prof Hawking “a hero of mine”.

    He said: “What a privilege it was to know Stephen Hawking. His work elevated us to the extraordinary: his life pushed down a terrible, limiting disease so that he could enjoy the full joy of the ordinary.

    “In both, he was a triumph of what we, as humans, can achieve.”

    Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, where Prof Hawking rose to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, said he has left “an indelible legacy”.

    “Prof Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world,” he said.

    “His character was an inspiration to millions. He will be much missed.”

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Brian Cox called Prof Hawking “one of the greats” and said physicists in 1,000 years’ time “will still be talking about Hawking radiation”.

    Prof Cox added: “There are at least three and possibly more areas where his work will be remembered as long as there are cosmologists and that’s the best you can hope for as a scientist.”

    Image copyright Getty Images
    Image caption His life story was made into a 2014 film, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne who is pictured here with Hawking.

    American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted: “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.”

    Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Prof Hawking in film biopic The Theory of Everything in 2014, said in a statement: We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

    “My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”

    Image copyright Reuters
    Image caption He also went on to meet Queen Elizabeth in 2014 during a charity event at St James’ Palace.

    American astrophysicist George Smoot, who knew Prof Hawking for many years, also paid tribute, describing him as “very competitive”.

    “Whenever I did something, he wanted to do it better,” Professor Smoot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

    “The one thing he was jealous of was I got the Nobel Prize before he did.”

    The extent of the tributes paid has led some to praise Prof Hawking’s contribution to popular culture, with Oxford University biologist Sally Le Page remarking he was “as much as a cultural icon as a scientific one”.

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