People across the globe are mourning the death of Stephen Hawking, the best-known theoretical physicist of his time. Hawking’s nonfiction book, A Brief History of Time explaining his theories about relativity, black holes and our universe became an international bestseller, making him one of science's biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.
"He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years," his 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," it added.
Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, when he was 21 in 1963, and has stunned doctors by living with the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years. Less than five per cent of those afflicted by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which ALS is also known as, live longer than five years. A severe attack of pneumonia in 1985 left him breathing through a tube, forcing him to communicate through an electronic voice synthesiser that gave him his distinctive robotic monotone.
As one of Isaac Newton's successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics — a "unified theory”. Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.
Hawking has said many times that the search was almost a religious quest — he said finding a "theory of everything" would allow mankind to "know the mind of God."
"A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence," he wrote in A Brief History of Time. In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.
He followed up A Brief History of Time in 2001 with the more accessible sequel The Universe in a Nutshell, updating readers on concepts like supergravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.
Hawking became one of the most well-known scientists in the world and has made many cameo and guest appearances in popular entertainment media. He made cameo television appearances in The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation and counted among his fans U2 guitarist The Edge, who attended a January 2002 celebration of Hawking's 60th birthday. He also had a recurring guest role on The Big Bang Theory.
His early life was chronicled in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne winning the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of the scientist.
Hawking's first major breakthrough came in 1970, when he and Roger Penrose applied the mathematics of black holes to the entire universe and showed that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in spacetime, lay in our distant past: the point from which came the big bang.
In 1982, Hawking was among the first to show how quantum fluctuations tiny variations in the distribution of matter might give rise through inflation to the spread of galaxies in the universe. Hawking has won the Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal, and the Fundamental Physics Prize.