Scientists, politicians and actors have paid tribute to world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who has been called an “inspiration to millions”.
The British scientist, famed for his work on black holes, died peacefully at his home in Cambridge aged 76.
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”.
Prof Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at the age of 22 and was told he had only a few years to live.
Factfile: Stephen Hawking
- Born 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England
- Earned place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge
- By 1963, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given two years to live
- Outlined his theory that black holes emit “Hawking radiation” in 1974
- In 1979, he became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton
- Published his book A Brief History of Time in 1988, which has sold more than 10 million copies
- In the late 1990s, he was reportedly offered a knighthood, but 10 years later revealed he had turned it down over issues with the government’s funding for science
- With the Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose, he showed that if there was a Big Bang, it must have started from an infinitely small point – a singularity
- Black holes radiate energy known as Hawking radiation, while gradually losing mass. This is due to quantum effects near the edge of the black hole, a region called the event horizon
- He predicted the existence of mini-black holes at the time of the Big Bang. These black holes would have shed mass until they vanished, potentially ending their lives in an explosion that would release vast amounts of energy
- In the 1970s, Hawking considered whether the particles and light that enter a black hole were ultimately destroyed if the black hole evaporated. Hawking initially thought that this “information” was lost from the Universe. But the US physicist Leonard Susskind disagreed. These ideas became known as the information paradox. In 2004, Hawking conceded that the information must be conserved.