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How Stephen Hawking Pushed the Limits in Life

NASA says he 'unlocked a universe of possibilities'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 14, 2018 6:33 AM CDT
How Stephen Hawking Pushed the Limits in Life
In this Feb. 25, 2012 photo, Professor Stephen Hawking poses beside a "Black hole light' created by inventor Mark Champkins.   (Anthony Devlin/PA via AP)

(Newser) – The world is paying tribute to Stephen Hawking, the beloved cosmologist and theoretical physicist who amazed the world both with his brilliant mind and his survival for more than 50 years after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge says Hawking, who died early Wednesday at age 76, was an inspiration to millions, the AP reports. Hawking's "exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularization of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy," Toope says. More:

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

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  • His greatest discoveries. Hawking dismissed comparisons to Albert Einstein as "hype," but he made some incredible breakthroughs in areas including the understanding of black holes, reports the Washington Post. His finding that black holes aren't really black but can emanate radiation and eventually evaporate deeply impressed other scientists. The radiation involved is now known as "Hawking radiation."
  • Best quotes. The AP rounds up Hawking's most memorable quotes, including: "My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all."
  • Politicians weigh in. Leaders around the world paid tribute to Hawking, as did politicians from rival parties in his native Britain. "Stephen Hawking inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos," tweeted Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's Labour Party. "But he also showed breathtaking courage to overcome life's adversities and a burning passion to protect our National Health Service. He will be greatly missed."

  • Pushing the limits. In its obituary of Hawking, the New York Times notes that he pushed the limits in life with trips to every continent, including Antarctica. He celebrated his 60th birthday with a trip in a hot-air balloon, took a zero-gravity flight when he was 65, and had hoped to one day visit space. He said he took risks "to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit."
  • Beloved by China. The "respect and adulation" Hawking had in China was "in another universe," the BBC reports. He was a superstar in the country, praised by everybody from government officials to boy bands for his work ethic and ability to overcome adversity. "He was very friendly and was willing to explain physics to laymen. His smile attracted the attention of everybody," says Tsinghua University professor Shing-tung Yau, who helped arrange his visits to China. "The Chinese are grateful for his generosity in spending time in China."
  • "Tremendous determination." The romanticized image of Hawking is of somebody whose physical impairment gave him almost supernatural gifts, but those who knew him would "clearly appreciate the dominating presence of a real human being, with an enormous zest for life, great humour, and tremendous determination, yet with normal human weaknesses," writes fellow physicist Roger Penrose at the Guardian. "He took great pleasure in children, sometimes entertaining them by swivelling around in his motorized wheelchair." Hawking was generous and witty and while he sometimes seemed arrogant, "he could also show a true humility that is the mark of greatness," Penrose writes.
  • Publications. The AP lists several of Hawking's most successful publications. He became famous with 1988's best-selling A Brief History of Time. Other publications included a series of children's books and 2013 memoir My Brief History.
(Read more Stephen Hawking stories.)

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