Great physi­cist Hawk­ing dies at 76

Ge­nius un­locked se­crets of space & time

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LOS AN­GE­LES, March 14, (Agen­cies): Stephen Hawk­ing, whose bril­liant mind ranged across time and space though his body was par­a­lyzed by dis­ease, died early Wed­nes­day, a Univer­sity of Cam­bridge spokesman said. He was 76 years old.

Hawk­ing died peace­fully at his home in Cam­bridge, Eng­land.

The best-known the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist of his time, Hawk­ing wrote so lu­cidly of the mys­ter­ies of space, time and black holes that his book, “A Brief His­tory of Time,” be­came an in­ter­na­tional best seller, mak­ing him one of sci­ence’s big­gest celebri­ties since Al­bert Ein­stein.

“He was a great sci­en­tist and an ex­tra­or­di­nary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his chil­dren Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a state­ment. “He was a great sci­en­tist and an ex­tra­or­di­nary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and per­sis­tence with his bril­liance and hu­mour in­spired peo­ple across the world. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a uni­verse if it wasn’t home to the peo­ple you love.’ We will miss him for­ever.”

Even though his body was at­tacked by amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis, or ALS, when Hawk­ing was 21, he stunned doc­tors by liv­ing with the nor­mally fa­tal ill­ness for more than 50 years. A se­vere at­tack of pneu­mo­nia in 1985 left him breath­ing through a tube, forc­ing him to com­mu­ni­cate through an elec­tronic voice syn­the­sizer that gave him his dis­tinc­tive robotic mono­tone.

But he con­tin­ued his sci­en­tific work, ap­peared on tele­vi­sion and mar­ried for a sec­ond time.

Suc­ces­sor

As one of Isaac New­ton’s suc­ces­sors as Lu­casian Pro­fes­sor of Math­e­mat­ics at Cam­bridge Univer­sity, Hawk­ing was in­volved in the search for the great goal of physics — a “uni­fied the­ory.”

Such a the­ory would re­solve the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween Ein­stein’s Gen­eral The­ory of Rel­a­tiv­ity, which de­scribes the laws of grav­ity that gov­ern the mo­tion of large ob­jects like plan­ets, and the The­ory of Quan­tum Me­chan­ics, which deals with the world of sub­atomic par­ti­cles.

For Hawk­ing, the search was al­most a re­li­gious quest — he said find­ing a “the­ory of ev­ery­thing” would al­low mankind to “know the mind of god.”

“A com­plete, con­sis­tent uni­fied the­ory is only the first step: our goal is a com­plete un­der­stand­ing of the events around us, and of our own ex­is­tence,” he wrote in “A Brief His­tory of Time.”

In later years, though, he sug­gested a uni­fied the­ory might not ex­ist.

He fol­lowed up “A Brief His­tory of Time” in 2001 with the more ac­ces­si­ble se­quel “The Uni­verse in a Nut­shell,” up­dat­ing read­ers on con­cepts like su­per grav­ity, naked sin­gu­lar­i­ties and the pos­si­bil­ity of an 11-di­men­sional uni­verse.

Hawk­ing said be­lief in a god who in­ter­venes in the uni­verse “to make sure the good guys win or get re­warded in the next life” was wish­ful think­ing.

“But one can’t help ask­ing the ques­tion: Why does the uni­verse ex­ist?” he said in 1991. “I don’t know an op­er­a­tional way to give the ques­tion or the an­swer, if there is one, a mean­ing. But it both­ers me.”

The com­bi­na­tion of his best-sell­ing book and his al­most to­tal dis­abil­ity — for a while he could use a few fin­gers, later he could only tighten the mus­cles on his face — made him one of sci­ence’s most rec­og­niz­able faces.

He made cameo tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances in “The Simp­sons” and “Star Trek” and counted among his fans U2 gui­tarist The Edge, who at­tended a Jan­uary 2002 cel­e­bra­tion of Hawk­ing’s 60th birth­day.

His early life was chron­i­cled in the 2014 film “The The­ory of Ev­ery­thing,” with Ed­die Red­mayne win­ning the best ac­tor Academy Award for his por­trayal of the sci­en­tist. The film fo­cused still more at­ten­tion on Hawk­ing’s re­mark­able achieve­ments.

Some col­leagues cred­ited that celebrity with gen­er­at­ing new en­thu­si­asm for sci­ence.

His achieve­ments and his longevity helped prove to many that even the most se­vere dis­abil­i­ties need not stop pa­tients from liv­ing.

Richard Green, of the Mo­tor Neu­rone Dis­ease As­so­ci­a­tion — the Bri­tish name for ALS — said Hawk­ing met the clas­sic def­i­ni­tion of the dis­ease, as “the per­fect mind trapped in an im­per­fect body.” He said Hawk­ing had been an in­spi­ra­tion to peo­ple with the dis­ease for many years.

Al­though it could take him min­utes to com­pose an­swers to even sim­ple ques­tions Hawk­ing said the dis­abil­ity did not im­pair his work. It cer­tainly did lit­tle to dampen his am­bi­tion to phys­i­cally ex­pe­ri­ence space him­self: Hawk­ing sa­vored small bursts of weight­less­ness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a jet that made re­peated dives to sim­u­late zero-grav­ity.

Hawk­ing had hoped to leave Earth’s at­mos­phere al­to­gether some­day, a trip he of­ten rec­om­mended to the rest of the planet’s in­hab­i­tants.

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