Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Hawking death: Queen's professor hails greatest living scientist of his time

By Jonathan Bell

A professor at Queen's University Belfast paid tribute to Professor Stephen Hawking on his death hailing him the greatest living scientist of his time.

Professor Hawking died on Wednesday in his Cambridge home at the age of 76.

At the age of 22 doctors gave him just two years to live after he was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease. Despite this he went on to have three children and became synonymous the world over not just in the fields of scientist but also popular culture.

His was confined to a wheelchair for much of his life and had to use a computer to communicate.

"He was remarkable and so much an inspiration to us all that he was at the forefront of science for so long," said Queen's astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt.

Hawking worked to unify general relativity with quantum mechanics - essentially the biggest science with the absolute smallest - and became world famous for his ground-breaking work.

"Perhaps because he used the computer to speak he did not have the same access to vocabulary.. but if anything that made his work more accessible and he was really able to capture the imagination," continued professor Smartt.

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QUB Professor Stephen Smartt.

The Belfast scientist worked in Cambridge for a number of years and would have met with Professor Hawking who he said always had the time to work with students.

He said the professor's aura was evident when he entered a room. The 49-year-old said that Hawking's bestselling book, A Brief History of Time, was part of the reason he chose to study astrophysics.

"He was very likeable. While he may have been confined to a wheelchair he had a fully-functioning mind that went far beyond the boundaries of normal human thought.

"Professor Hawking worked to get the big answers to the questions we all want to know like 'where did we come from?' and 'where are we going?' and if we will continue to survive. It was thought-provoking and he was able to show he was not just a master physicist and mathematician but someone who had a genuine interest in the history and future of humanity.

"His genius shone through. And with appearances on Star Trek and The Simpsons he brought his studies to the masses like no other. Certainly he was the greatest living scientist of his time."

News of Professor Hawking's death exploded like a supernova in the world of cosmology – where, despite his disability, he had stood like a colossus.

As the news circled the globe, Nasa, Cambridge University and world-renowned scientists paid their respects alongside many figures in the world of entertainment - the two fields Professor Hawking was able to successfully join.

In a statement, his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“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.”

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