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Pope Francis met with British scientist Stephen Hawking in November 2016 Pope Francis met with British scientist Stephen Hawking in November 2016  (AFP or licensors)

Tributes to scientist Stephen Hawking, dead at 76

Internationally renowned as a leading researcher and author, Hawking was diagnosed at 21 with motor neurone disease

By Philippa Hitchen

British scientist Stephen Hawking died on Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, where he had spent his career probing the mysteries of the universe.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair and speaking through a voice synthesizer, Hawking gained international renown for his ground breaking work on black holes and the theory of relativity.

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At the age of 76, Stephen Hawking was the most famous face of the scientific world. His formidable mind probed the limits of human understanding, both in the vastness of space and in the sub-molecular world of quantum theory, which he said could predict what happens at the beginning and end of time.

A Brief History of Time

As well as being a brilliant scientist, he also wrote about his ideas in a language that people could understand. He shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of his book “A Brief History of Time", which spent over two years on the Sunday Times best-seller list.

In 2014 he was portrayed in the film, "The Theory of Everything", which explored his early life as a student and the onset of his debilitating motor neurone disease.

Meetings with popes

He met with four popes here in the Vatican, including Pope Francis, whom he encountered at a 2016 session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences exploring the impact of scientific knowledge and technology on people and the planet.

As part of his research, Hawking proposed a model of the universe based on two concepts of time: “"real time", as human beings experience it, and "imaginary time", on which the world may really run. Another major part of his research was into black holes, thought to be so dense that nothing could escape from their gravitational pull.

Lasting legacy

The U.S. space agency NASA paid tribute to Hawking, saying: "His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we and the world are exploring."

As messages poured in from across the globe, Hawking’s three children released a statement describing their father as “an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years”.

In a tweet, one fan noted that Hawking was born January 8th 1942, the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death and died on March 14th, the anniversary of Einstein's birth. Time is circular, the tweet concluded, “no beginning, no end”.

14 March 2018, 12:35