In the early hours of March 14, Stephen Hawking, one of the most influential minds of the twentieth century, died at the age of 76. His death was confirmed by the University of Cambridge, who stated that the physicist had died at his home in Cambridge, England.
Hawking lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that kills motor neurons and leaves the brain unable to control muscles. We’re all mourning Hawking today, but it’s especially poignant to hear the reflections of fellow scientists, many of whom chose their career paths in no small part because of Hawking.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist and director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, posted on Twitter: “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.”
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. pic.twitter.com/nAanMySqkt
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) March 14, 2018
A former student of Hawking’s, Raphael Bousso, spoke to Nature about Hawking’s rare ability to talk about scientific concepts in relatable terms. “These are two distinct skills,” he said. “Stephen excelled at both. Stephen was a joyful and lighthearted person, not to be burdened by excessively respectful and convoluted interactions.”
Hawking became a cultural icon via his brilliant mind and the way he expressed his ideas. One of the theories he’ll be best remembered for is his theory of Hawking radiation. He shocked the world of physics with his findings that black holes should thermally create and emit subatomic particles until they exert all of their energy and evaporate. The main takeaway was that black holes weren’t completely black, and they don’t last forever.
Gizmodo writer Ryan F. Mandelbaum spoke to physicists about their thoughts on Hawking. This is what Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s Astronomy Department, had to say.
“Stephen embodied the superiority of mind over matter. He demonstrated that the human spirit can overcome all physical limitations and that the human mind can comprehend the deep secrets of nature,” Loeb said. “With his optimistic mindset, he discovered that even a black hole can shine brightly.”