Stephen Hawking, the man whose insights shaped modern cosmology died today at his home in Cambridge. He was aged 76. A great scientist and an extraordinary man with intuition and iniquitous sense of humour marked him as a brutal intellectual in the world.
He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 at the age of 21. Doctors thought he would survive only for two more years. But Hawking survived for more than half a century.
His major breakthrough came in 1970, when he and Roger Penrose applied the mathematics of black holes to the universe and showed that a singularity, a region of infinite curvature in space time, 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. In these tiny ripples lay the seeds of stars, planets and life as we know it.
Considered by many to be the world’s greatest living scientist, Hawking was also a cosmologist, astronomer, mathematician and author of numerous books including the landmark “A Brief History of Time,” which has sold more than 10 million copies.
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” he said.
He spoke also of death, an eventuality that sat on a more distant horizon than doctors thought. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.
What astounded those around him was how much he did achieve. He leaves three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy and three grandchildren.