Professor Stephen Hawking was “an inspiration to millions” and his work will leave “an indelible legacy”, the University of Cambridge has said.
The acclaimed physicist died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning, at the age of 76.
Prof Hawking first arrived at the University of Cambridge in 1962 as a PhD student, and rose through the ranks to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton, in 1979.
He retired from this position in 2009, and became the Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research in the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics until his death.
The university’s vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said: “Professor Hawking was a unique individual who will be remembered with warmth and affection not only in Cambridge but all over the world.
“His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy.
“His character was an inspiration to millions. He will be much missed.”
Prof Hawking was a fellow at the university’s Gonville and Caius College, where a book of condolence is due to be opened.
Astronomer Royal, Professor Lord Martin Rees, emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at Cambridge, said: “Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies; he was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty.
“This was Stephen Hawking. He had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and it was thought that he might not survive long enough even to finish his PhD. But, amazingly, he lived on to the age of 76.
“Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive. He became one of the most famous scientists in the world – acclaimed as a world-leading researcher in mathematical physics, for his best-selling books about space, time and the cosmos, and for his astonishing triumph over adversity.
“Tragedy struck Stephen Hawking when he was only 22. He was diagnosed with a deadly disease, and his expectations dropped to zero.
“He himself said that everything that happened since then was a bonus. And what a triumph his life has been.
“His name will live in the annals of science – millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books, and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds – a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination.”