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Physicist Stephen Hawking dies aged 76

Modern cosmology's brightest star and author of 'A Brief History of Time' has died, says family member

Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist who overcame a devastating neurological disease to probe the greatest mysteries of the cosmos and become a globally celebrated symbol of the power of the human mind, has died, a family spokesman told the Associated Press.

He was 76.

Through his works and popular literature he wrote, Hawking brought the fundamental concepts of theoretical physics — such as space-time 'singularity', the Big Bang theory and the existence of blackholes to lay-level guide.

■ A brief history of 'A Brief History of Time'
■ Stephen Hawking warns AI could 'spell end of human race'
■ Look: The world reacts to losing Stephen Hawking
■ Stephen Hawking's disease deciphered: ALS 

Unable to move a muscle, speechless but for a computer-synthesized voice, Hawking had suffered since the age of 21 from a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Initially given two years to live, a diagnosis that threw him into a profound depression, he found the strength to complete his doctorate.

He rose to the position of Lucasian professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, the same post held by Isaac Newton 300 years earlier.

 “One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Two, never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don't throw it away.”

 -Stephen Hawking


Hawking eventually became one of the planet's most renowned science popularisers.

He embraced the attention, traveling the world, meeting with presidents, visiting Antarctica and Easter Island, and flying on special "zero-gravity" jet whose parabolic flight let Hawking float through the cabin as if he were in outer space.

Some of the works written by Stephen Hawking. - File

"My goal is simple," he once said. "It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all."

He spent much of his career searching for a way to reconcile Einstein's theory of relativity with quantum physics and produce a Theory of Everything.

He wrote an international bestseller, A Brief History of Time (1988), which delved into the origin and ultimate fate of the universe.

He deliberately set out to write a mass-market primer on an often incomprehensible subject.

'A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes' is a popular-science book on cosmology by Stephen Hawking. The book, first published in 1988, was written for nonspecialist readers with no prior knowledge of scientific theories. The book became a bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies in 20 years.

It was also on the London Sunday Times bestseller list for more than five years and was translated into 35 languages by 2001.

Although the book was sometimes derided as being dense, and had a reputation for being owned more than read, it sold millions of copies, was translated into more than 20 languages, and inspired a mini-empire of similar books from Hawking, including The Universe in a Nutshell and A Briefer History of Time.

 IF you remember every word in this book, your memory will have recorded about two million pieces of information: the order in your brain will have increased by about two million units. However, while you have been reading the book, you will have converted at least a thousand calories of ordered energy, in the form of food, into disordered energy, in the form of heat that you lose to the air around you by convection and sweat. This will increase the disorder of the universe by about twenty million million million million units — or about ten million million million times the increase in order in your brain — and that's if you remember everything in this book.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

With his daughter, Lucy, he wrote a series of children's books about a young intergalactic traveler named George.

His blunt 2013 memoir, My Brief History, explored his development in science as well as his turbulent marriages. In addition, Hawking was the subject of a 1991 documentary, A Brief History of Time, directed by Errol Morris, and countless newspaper and magazine articles.

 A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever, " said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

With the aid of a voice synthesizer, controlled by his fingers on a keyboard, he gave speeches around the world, from Chile to China.

He played himself on such TV programmes as Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons, the latter featuring Hawking telling the show's lazy animated patriarch, "Your theory of a doughnut-shaped universe is interesting, Homer. I may have to steal it."

He insisted that his reputation as the second coming of Albert Einstein had gotten out of control through "media hype".

"I fit the part of a disabled genius," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "At least, I'm disabled - even though I'm not a genius like Einstein. ... The public wants heroes. They made Einstein a hero, and now they're making me a hero, though with much less justification."

 A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements. It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

His scientific achievements included breakthroughs in understanding the extreme conditions of black holes, objects so dense that not even light can escape their gravity.


Black holes are not black

His most famous theoretical breakthrough was to find an exception to this seemingly unforgiving law of physics: black holes are not really black, he realised, but rather can emanate thermal radiation from subatomic processes at their boundary, and can potentially evaporate. Scientists refer to such theoretical emanations as "Hawking radiation". 

 It is said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

"We had this very strong sense at the time that our generation lived anyway under this most awful nuclear cloud - that with a four-minute warning the world itself could likely end," Jane Hawking later told the British newspaper the Observer.

"That made us feel above all that we had to do our bit, that we had to follow an idealistic course in life. That may seem naive now, but that was exactly the spirit in which Stephen and I set out in the Sixties — to make the most of whatever gifts were given us."

 Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

They would have three children before his condition deteriorated to near-complete paralysis.

He received a doctorate in 1966 and became a postgraduate research physicist at Cambridge, where he hoped to study under the celeberated astrophysicist Fred Hoyle. Instead, he was assigned to Dennis Sciama - a disappointment, at first.

But, as he later wrote, "This turned out to be a good thing. Hoyle was abroad a lot and I wouldn't have seen much of him. Sciama on the other hand was there, and was always stimulating."

A few years later, while on the staff of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, he formed a close collaboration with Cambridge colleague Roger Penrose. They developed a theorem that the universe has not always existed.

 Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

The two showed that if the theory of relativity is true, the universe must have sprung into existence, out of what appeared to be nothing, at a specific moment in the past and from a place where gravity became so strong that space and time are curved beyond recognition - what is known as a "singularity".

At the remarkably young age of 32, Hawking was named a fellow of the Royal Society. He received the Albert Einstein Award, the most prestigious in theoretical physics.

He joined the Cambridge faculty in 1973 as a research assistant in the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics; he was promoted to professor of gravitational physics in 1977.


 …only in the few universes that are like ours would intelligent beings develop and ask the question: “Why is the universe the way we see it?” The answer is then simple: If it had been any different, we would not be here!”  

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Questioning mind

While at Cambridge, Hawking began to question the big-bang theory, which by then most people had accepted.

Perhaps, he suggested, there was never a start and would be no end, but just change — a constant transition of one "universe" giving way to another through glitches in space-time. 


 “Or in other words, why does disorder increase in the same direction of time as that in which the universe expands?”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time


All the while, Hawking was digging into exploding black holes, string theory and the birth of black holes in our galaxy.

Hawking was known to weigh in rather playfully on grand cosmological questions. He once suggested that if the universe stopped expanding and began to contract, time would run backward. He later said that he'd changed his mind on that.

 The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time


He gained headlines when he declared that humans should colonise other worlds to hedge their bets against the possible destruction of this one.

In an updated, illustrated (easier to handle) version of A Brief History of Time, he added a chapter on wormholes — back-alley cosmic tunnels that might conceivably let someone travel back in time. Prancing on the edge of the plausible, he nonetheless stuck to what science can tell us.

 “Only time (whatever that may be) will tell.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time


"He thought about the deep and important questions in novel ways," said David Spergel, Princeton University's chairman of astrophysics.

"Hawking's important contribution was identifying new ways to answer those questions and formulating mathematically sophisticated ways of connecting general relativity and quantum mechanics."

 The rate of progress is so rapid that what one learns at school or university is always a bit out of date. Only a few people can keep up with the rapidly advancing frontier of knowledge, and they have to devote their whole time to it and specialize in a small area. The rest of the population has little idea of the advances that are being made or the excitement they are generating.”

Hawking had sought to come up with a so-called Theory of Everything that would essentially put an end to theoretical physics by answering all the outstanding questions. But whether such a theory can ever be found is unclear.

Hawking said our universe might not be the only one there is — that many more may be popping into existence all around us.

 There could be whole antiworlds and antipeople made out of antiparticles. However, if you meet your antiself, don’t shake hands! You would both vanish in a great flash of light.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

He suggested that "cosmic wormholes" briefly link those universes to ours and that subatomic particles may travel from one universe to another through them, accounting for some of the strange behavior of particles that physicists observe.

The power of Hawking's celebrity was measured at times by the tabloid coverage he drew for his complicated personal life.

 We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

But the marriage grew strained, in part because of her Christian faith and his adamant atheism, and in part because of what she called his remote and stoic temperament.

She described him as an "all-powerful emperor" who seemed blind to how demanding his illness became for her as she also took care of their young children. He refused measures that would have made life easier for her, and she felt it was "too cruel" to coerce him to see it her way.

 Today, we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

His wife Jane spent hours every day bathing, washing and feeding Hawking, who required constant nursing care. He developed pneumonia in 1985 on a trip to Geneva, and Jane battled doctors who wanted to turn off his life support.

They grew apart and, in 1990, just shy of their 25th wedding anniversary, separated when Hawking left Jane for his nurse, Elaine Mason. He married Elaine five years later after his divorce from Jane became final.

 Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”

 -Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Hawking called his second marriage, which also ended in divorce, "passionate and tempestuous."

Hawking's offices were filled with photographs of him standing with admirers ranging from popes (he was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences) to the late Soviet physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov.

The theoretical physicist once described his heroes as "Galileo, Einstein, Darwin and Marilyn Monroe." The last was of particular appeal to the scientist who hung posters of her and collected Monroe-related bric a brac.

"My daughter and secretary gave me posters of her, my son gave me a Marilyn bag and my wife a Marilyn towel," he once said. "I suppose you could say she was a model of the universe."

Stephen Hawking at NASA in 1980



The scientific works of Stephen William Hawking (8 January 1942 – 13 March 2018) include a collaboration with Roger Penrose on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity and the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, often called "Hawking radiation".

Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. 

He was a vigorous supporter of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

In 2002, Hawking was ranked number 25 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons. 

He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge between 1979 and 2009 and achieved commercial success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; his book A Brief History of Time appeared on the British Sunday Times best-seller list for a record-breaking 237 weeks.

Hawking had a rare early-onset, slow-progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that gradually paralysed him over the decades.

He was still able to communicate using a single cheek muscle attached to a speech-generating device.


Companion of Honour (CH)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)
Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)


Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford to Frank and Isobel Hawking (née Walker; 1915–2013). His mother was Scottish. Despite their families' financial constraints, both parents attended the University of Oxford, where Frank read medicine and Isobel read Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

The two met shortly after the beginning of WWII at a medical research institute where Isobel was working as a secretary and Frank was working as a medical researcher. They lived in Highgate; but, as London was being bombed in those years, Isobel went to Oxford to give birth in greater safety. Hawking had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary, and an adopted brother, Edward. 

In 1950, when Hawking's father became head of the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research, Hawking and his family moved to St Albans, Hertfordshire. In St Albans, the family were considered highly intelligent and somewhat eccentric; meals were often spent with each person silently reading a book.

They lived a frugal existence in a large, cluttered, and poorly maintained house and travelled in a converted London taxicab. During one of Hawking's father's frequent absences working in Africa, the rest of the family spent four months in Majorca visiting his mother's friend Beryl and her husband, the poet Robert Graves.

Primary and secondary school years

Hawking began his schooling at the Byron House School in Highgate, London. He later blamed its "progressive methods" for his failure to learn to read while at the school. In St Albans, the eight-year-old Hawking attended St Albans High School for Girls for a few months. At that time, younger boys could attend one of the houses. 

The family placed a high value on education. Hawking's father wanted his son to attend the well-regarded Westminster School, but the 13-year-old Hawking was ill on the day of the scholarship examination. 

His family could not afford the school fees without the financial aid of a scholarship, so Hawking remained at St Albans.

A positive consequence was that Hawking remained with a close group of friends with whom he enjoyed board games, the manufacture of fireworks, model aeroplanes and boats, and long discussions about life, faith and extrasensory perception. 

From 1958 on, with the help of the mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta, they built a computer from clock parts, an old telephone switchboard and other recycled components. Although known at school as "Einstein", Hawking was not initially successful academically.

With time, he began to show considerable aptitude for scientific subjects and, inspired by Tahta, decided to read mathematics at university.

Hawking's father advised him to study medicine, concerned that there were few jobs for mathematics graduates. 

He also wanted his son to attend University College, Oxford, his own alma mater. As it was not possible to read mathematics there at the time, Hawking decided to study physics and chemistry. Despite his headmaster's advice to wait until the next year, Hawking was awarded a scholarship after taking the examinations in March 1959. 

Undergraduate years

Hawking began his university education at University College, Oxford in October 1959 at the age of 17. For the first 18 months, he was bored and lonely – he found the academic work "ridiculously easy".

His physics tutor, Robert Berman, later said, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it."

A change occurred during his second and third year when, according to Berman, Hawking made more of an effort "to be one of the boys". 

He developed into a popular, lively and witty college member, interested in classical music and science fiction.

Part of the transformation resulted from his decision to join the college boat club, the University College Boat Club, where he coxed a rowing crew. 

The rowing coach at the time noted that Hawking cultivated a daredevil image, steering his crew on risky courses that led to damaged boats.

Hawking estimated that he studied about a thousand hours during his three years at Oxford. These unimpressive study habits made sitting his finals a challenge, and he decided to answer only theoretical physics questions rather than those requiring factual knowledge. 

A first-class honours degree was a condition of acceptance for his planned graduate study in cosmology at the University of Cambridge.

Anxious, he slept poorly the night before the examinations, and the final result was on the borderline between first- and second-class honours, making a viva (oral examination) necessary.

Hawking was concerned that he was viewed as a lazy and difficult student. So, when asked at the oral to describe his future plans, he said, "If you award me a First, I will go to Cambridge. If I receive a Second, I shall stay in Oxford, so I expect you will give me a First."

He was held in higher regard than he believed; as Berman commented, the examiners "were intelligent enough to realise they were talking to someone far cleverer than most of themselves".

After receiving a first-class BA (Hons.) degree in natural science and completing a trip to Iran with a friend, he began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in October 1962. 

Graduate years

Hawking's first year as a doctoral student was difficult. He was initially disappointed to find that he had been assigned Dennis William Sciama, one of the founders of modern cosmology, as a supervisor rather than noted astronomer Fred Hoyle, and he found his training in mathematics inadequate for work in general relativity and cosmology.

After being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, Hawking fell into a depression – though his doctors advised that he continue with his studies, he felt there was little point.

His disease progressed more slowly than doctors had predicted. Although Hawking had difficulty walking unsupported, and his speech was almost unintelligible, an initial diagnosis that he had only two years to live proved unfounded. With Sciama's encouragement, he returned to his work.

Hawking started developing a reputation for brilliance and brashness when he publicly challenged the work of Fred Hoyle and his student Jayant Narlikar at a lecture in June 1964.

When Hawking began his graduate studies, there was much debate in the physics community about the prevailing theories of the creation of the universe: the Big Bang and Steady State theories.

'A Brief History of Time'

Often referred to as "one of the most unread books of all time"  for the hard-to-grasp concepts, it included only one equation: E = mc2 or the equivalence of mass and energy, deduced by Einstein from his theory of special relativity. The book outlined the basics of cosmology for the general reader.

Hawking's fame increased as his health worsened.

After his degenerative muscle disorder was diagnosed, he defied medical opinion by living five decades longer than expected. He communicated his ideas through an American-accented speech synthesizer after a life-saving tracheotomy in 1985 took away his ability to speak. To the layman, the robot-like voice only seemed to give his words added authority.

"To my colleagues, I'm just another physicist, but to the wider public, I became possibly the best-known scientist in the world," Hawking wrote in his 2013 memoir "My Brief History." 

"This is partly because scientists, apart from Einstein, are not widely known rock stars, and partly because I fit the stereotype of a disabled genius." 

Black Holes 

Hawking applied quantum theory — governing the subatomic world — to black holes, which he claimed discharge radiation that causes them to disappear. This process helps explain the notion that black holes have existed at a micro level since the Big Bang, and the smaller they are, the faster they evaporate.

Black holes are formed when a massive star collapses under the weight of its own gravity. Detected by the movement of surrounding matter, they devour everything in their path and may play a role in the birth of galaxies. 

Physicists say these invisible cosmic vacuums might allow travel through time and space via "wormholes,"  a favorite of science-fiction writers.


Space-time 'singularity' and the Big Bang Theory

Inspired by mathematician Roger Penrose's theorem of a "spacetime singularity" in the centre of black holes, Hawking applied the same thinking to the entire universe; and, during 1965, he wrote his thesis on this topic.

Hawking's thesis was approved in 1966. 

There were other positive developments: Hawking received a research fellowship at Gonville and Caius College; he obtained his PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics, specialising in general relativity and cosmology, in March 1966; and his essay titled "Singularities and the Geometry of Space-Time" shared top honours with one by Penrose to win that year's prestigious Adams Prize.

With Penrose, Hawking used Einstein's theory of relativity to trace the origins of time and space to a single point of zero size and infinite density. 

Their work gave mathematical expression to the Big Bang theory, proposed by Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre in 1927 and supported two years later by Edwin Hubble's discovery that the universe is expanding.

Hawking later tried to marry relativity with quantum theory by proposing the no-boundary principle, which held that space-time is finite and the laws of physics determined how the universe began in a self-contained system, "without the need for a creator or prior cause".

'Profound Impact'

The Nobel Prize in Physics proved elusive for Hawking, whose theories required observational data to win the praise of the awarding committee in Stockholm. The Nobel Foundation excludes posthumous nominees.

"By any reasonable standard, Stephen Hawking is a great scientist. Even if time shows some of his more radical proposals to be incorrect, Hawking will have had a profound impact on the history of science," Henry F. Schaefer III, a chemistry professor at the University of Georgia, said in a 2001 lecture.