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Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, leaving a legacy of scientific discoveries and groundbreaking theories, as well as providing inspiration for science students, teachers and people with disabilities.
Prof. Hawking, who suffered from motor neurone disease and had been wheel-chair bound since the late 1960s, saw worldwide success as a leading physicist. his book The Brief History of Time (1988) sold over 20million copies in its first 20 years of publication. It was written in an easy-to-understand style, so readers without prior knowledge of scientific theories could understand complex ideas including general relativity and quantum mechanics.
Prof. Hawking was a vocal supporter of disability rights and, although unable to speak or eat unaided, he used and developed technology which allowed him to continue to lecture and write.
He took part in fundraising activities and in 2000 signed the Charter for the Third Millennium on Disability, which called on governments across the world to work towards preventing disability and to protect disability rights.
In 1999, Prof. Hawking was awarded the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize of the American Physical Society, and in 2012, he narrated the "Enlightenment" part of the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony in London, much to the audience’s delight. In 2014, the film The Theory of Everything about his life was released, starring Eddie Redmayne as the Cambridge physicist. In the film, Prof. Hawking’s struggle with his disability was chronicled, as well as his dry humour and staunch attitude not to let the disease prevent him from working.
In September 2013, Prof. Hawking expressed support for the legalisation of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. And when the Ice Bucket Challenge to promote ALS/MND awareness swept the country, Prof. Hawking took part. He had pneumonia in 2013, so was advised by medics not to have ice poured over him, but his children accepted the challenge on his behalf instead.
Stars yesterday paid tribute on social media to Prof. Hawking, with scientist Brian Cox tweeting, “Sad to hear about Stephen Hawking. What a remarkable life. His contributions to science will be used as long as there are scientists, and there are many more scientists because of him. He spoke about the value and fragility of human life and civilisation and greatly enhanced both.”
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