Stephen Hawking, visionary physicist, cosmologist, and inspiration to generations of people the world over, has died at age 76. Hawking developed dozens of theories regarding the cosmos, notably incorporating general relativity and quantum mechanics to understand the development of black holes and dark matter. He sought to explain how our universe was born, how it continues to expand, and what came before it. Most notably, he sought to bring that knowledge forward to everyone, even people with little or no background in physical science.
Hawking suffered throughout his life with a rare, slowly progressing form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). The disease confined him physically to a wheelchair and left him unable to speak without the use of his signature computer speech-generation device. Yet this disease and its effects on his body did not effect the work of his incredible mind, and did not deter him from his mission to better understand our universe, and to teach others who sought that same understanding.
His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018
With books such as A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell he made the knowledge of our cosmos and it’s origin understandable to everyone, even people with little or no background knowledge of the physical sciences. His desire to make cosmology and physics accessible to all was of increasing importance at a time when humanity was first setting foot off of our home planet and sending our creations out into the universe beyond our orbit of the Sun.
Along with contemporaries like Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke, he opened a space in the public sphere for science and science education. Nearly two decades after A Brief History of Time was published, innumerable books by as many authors have been released in the genre of popular science. Television, film, and internet media have become host to dozens of popular scientists and science educators like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Lawrence Krauss, and dozens more.
Stephen Hawking was an inspiration to all of us: scientists, science educators, or science-minded members of the public. His work to enhance our understanding of the cosmos has inspired new generations to make new discoveries that deepen that understanding, and to create inspiring works popular science and science fiction. His life inspired us to look out at the stars, not only to see our past and present, but also our future.