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4:08pm, 14th March, 2018

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“You were supposed to be either brilliant without effort or accept your limitations”.

Stephen Hawking, the great physicist and the pioneer of modern cosmology , died on 14th march ,2018 at the age of 76. The world has lost a rare genius and an extra ordinary human being.

Hawking’s contributions to science are immense. He was among the first to show that quantum fluctuations (tiny variations in the distribution of matter), might give rise to expansion of galaxies in the universe. His theory of cosmic inflation is hailed as one of the most beautiful ideas in the history of science.

He was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of general relativity and quantum mechanics. He was a vigorous supporter of the ‘many worlds interpretation’ of quantum mechanics.

His proposal that black holes radiate heat stirred up one of the most passionate debates in modern cosmology. Hawking theorised that if a black hole could evaporate into a bath of radiation , all the information that fell inside it over its lifetime would be lost forever. The theory contradicted the most basic laws of quantum mechanics, drawing plenty of disagreeing physicists into the debate. However, he later took a U turn on the information paradox and admitted that maybe the information loss does not occur after all.

Young Stephen in London marching against the war in Vietnam in 1969

In, 1974 , he was elected to the Royal Society at the young age of 32. He was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for 30 years from 1979 to 2009. It is considered to be Britain’s most distinguished chair, formerly held by Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Paul Dirac. He went on to become the director of research at the centre of theoretical cosmology, Cambridge. He achieved commercial success with his works on popular science discussing his own theories on cosmology. His most notable work that catapulted him to stardom was the Brief History Of Time, published in 1988. The book made it to the Guinness book of world records after it stayed on the Sunday Times Bestsellers List for 237 weeks. It sold 10 million copies and was translated in 40 languages.

Hawking married Jane Wilde, his college sweetheart in 1965. They have 3 children together. However , the marriage got strained and the two divorced in 1995. He married Elaine Mason, one of his attending nurses later that year. After 11 years, the marriage ended in a divorce in 2006.

Jane Wilde wrote about her relationship with Hawking in her 2013 book, Travelling to infinity:My life with Stephen.

Stephen Hawking had a rare early onset , slow progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) that gradually left him paralysed over the years. He was only able to communicate using a single cheek muscle attached to a speech generating device. After being diagnosed with the motor neurone disease in his graduate years at Oxford, he fell into depression. But he soon returned to his work with encouragement from his colleagues. In a way , the early diagnosis of his terminal disease ignited a fresh sense of purpose in him. He once said,”I am not afraid of death but I am in hurry to die. I have a lot of work to do in the time I have on my hands”.

He has won the Albert Einstein Award, the Wolf Prize, the Copley Medal and the Fundamental Physics Prize but the Nobel Prize eluded him. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. His life has been played out in various biographies and documentaries, most notably movie The Theory of Everything in which his character is played by Eddie Redmayne.

Hawking once declared,” My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe . Why it is as it is and why it exists at all”. Indeed, he was one of the greatest physicists of his time who reshaped cosmology . Rarely does it happen, that a person of science goes on to achieve such celebrity status as Mr. Hawking . He was widely admired and respected for his sheer wit and humble nature .With his death, a glorious era in the history of science has come to an end. But his legacy will live on for years to come . His persistence and perseverance are an inspiration to the world.

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