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Passing of Stephen Hawking leaves a 'vacuum'

March 14, 2018

Scientists and celebrities are paying their respects to the late Stephen Hawking, whose revolutionary theories earned him recognition across the world. His death left "an intellectual vacuum," said Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Close-up of Stephen Hawking's face in 2001 at his Cambridge office
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/A. Abd Rabbo

The passing of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawking prompted tributes from prominent voices on Wednesday. Hawking's friends, fellow scientists, and public officials praised the Cambridge professor for his scientific work, but also for his efforts in promoting science and his perseverance in the face of severe physical disability.

"We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit," said the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee. "Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also mourned the death of the British scientist.

"Professor Stephen Hawking was a brilliant and extraordinary mind - one of the great scientists of his generation," the prime minister posted on Twitter, adding that Hawking's "courage, humor and determination to get the most from life" were inspiring.

"His legacy will not be forgotten," she wrote.

Stephen Hawking appearing in the Simpsons
Hawking made guest appearances in the Simpsons, Star Trek, Futurama and other popular TV showsImage: picture-alliance

Read more: Beyond the myth - Bruce Allen on Stephen Hawking

'What a triumph his life has been'

Lord Martin Rees, professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cambridge, recounted his college days of studying with Hawking.

"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," Rees wrote.

"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."

Eddie Redmayne in character as Stephen Hawking (picture-alliance/L.Daniel)
Eddie Redmayne played Hawking in a film about the scientist's youth Image: Focus Features/Liam Daniel

"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," said Rees. "And what a triumph his life has been."

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for portraying Hawking in the 2014 movie "The Theory of Everything," also mourned the physicist on Wednesday.

"We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet," he said.

Celebrity physicist and promoter of popular science Neil deGrasse Tyson said Hawking's death left an "intellectual vacuum," but added that the vacuum was not empty.

"Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure," Tyson tweeted.

Chris Hadfield, popular Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), said Hawkings was a genius.

"You inspired and taught us all," he wrote.

NASA also sent out its condolences, posting a recording of Hawking's conversation with ISS astronauts in which the scientist referred to "true freedom" he had experienced in a zero-gravity jet.

"His theories unlocked a universe of possibilities that we and the world are exploring. May you keep flying like superman in microgravity, as you said to astronauts on @Space_Station in 2014."

Users on the Chinese counterpart of Twitter, Weibo, also mourned Hawking, who had maintained a micro-blogging account on the platform. Hawking had posted in both English and Chinese, with his posts welcomed and admired by millions of his fans.

Some compared his death to "the falling of a giant star."

"The deterioration of his body did not trap him. Today this superhuman brain has left this world, and his next journey, death, remains a mystery," one user said.

"I hope he has the strength to send us information from the next world."

dj/rc (AP, Reuters)