Institute of Astronomy

Stephen Hawking (1942–2018)

Published on 14/03/2018 

Professor Stephen Hawking has died peacefully at his home in Cambridge at the age of 76.

Stephen Hawking was one of the most famous scientists in the world -- acclaimed as a world-leading researcher in mathematical physics, for his best-selling books about space, time and the cosmos, and for his astonishing triumph over adversity.

Stephen’s ‘eureka moment' revealed a profound and unexpected link between gravity and quantum theory: he predicted that black holes would not be completely black, but would radiate in a characteristic way. This ‘Hawking radiation’ had very deep implications for mathematical physics – indeed one of the main achievements of string theory has been to corroborate his idea. It is still the focus of theoretical interest – a topic of debate and controversy more than 40 years after his discovery. 

Cambridge was Stephen’s base throughout his career, and he became a familiar figure navigating his wheelchair around the city’s streets. He was a researcher at the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (1968-72) and here at the newly-formed Institute of Astronomy (1972-73). By the end of the 1970s, he had advanced to one of the most distinguished posts in the University -- the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics, once held by Newton himself. He held this chair with distinction for 30 years; but reached the retiring age in 2009 and thereafter held a special research professorship.

Stephen was far from being the archetype unworldy or nerdish scientist – his personality remained amazingly unwarped by his frustrations and handicaps. As well as his extensive travels, he enjoyed trips to theatre or opera. He had robust common sense, and was ready to express forceful political opinions.

Tragedy struck Stephen Hawking when he was only 22. 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.

This text has been adapted from 'Stephen Hawking -- an Appreciation' by Professor Martin Rees.

Page last updated: 14 March 2018 at 22:17