Stephen Hawking, the brilliant and iconic British scientist who inspired countless millions with his intellect and humanity, has died at 76. After being diagnosed with a degenerative motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at age 21, which left him nearly completely paralyzed, Hawking found strength in humor and the boundless exploration of science. “My goal is simple,” he famously said. “It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” His achievements as an astrophysicist include his theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, (sometimes referred to as Hawking radiation), his work on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity, and his 30-year tenure as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a position once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

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Throughout his life, Hawking traveled the world, inspiring and teaching others, and worked to make science accessible. His 1989 classic A Brief History of Time was written for a mainstream audience on a subject with which few were familiar, emphasizing Hawking’s drive to bring science to the people. Hawking also wrote a series of children’s books with his daughter Lucy to help young people discover their love for science. Hawking’s approach to accessibility was framed by his own physical disability, which left him unable to physically speak. Using a vocal synthesizer controlled by finger movements, and later his cheek muscle, Hawking found his voice again and used it. When asked why he did not update his voice as artificial speech technology had advanced, he replied, “My old system worked well and I wrote five books with it, including ‘A Brief History of Time’. It has become my trademark and I wouldn’t change it for a more natural voice with a British accent. I am told that children who need a computer voice want one like mine.”

Related: Stephen Hawking reveals what existed before the Big Bang

Hawking wielded his sense of humor to connect with others and to motivate himself in trying times. “Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has maintaining a sense of humor,” Hawking observed in a 2013 documentary. “I am probably better known for my appearances on The Simpsons and on The Big Bang Theory than I am for my scientific discoveries.” In his guest appearance on the former television series, Hawking found scientific inspiration from Homer Simpson. “Your theory of a doughnut shaped universe is intriguing, Homer,” Hawkings said in a 1999 episode. “I may have to steal it.”

As one of the longest surviving people with ALS, Hawking credited humor with his longevity. “When I turned 21, my expectations were reduced to zero,” he said in 2016. “It was important that I came to appreciate what I did have . . . It’s also important not to become angry, no matter how difficult life is, because you can lose all hope if you can’t laugh at yourself and at life in general.”

Via Washington Post

Images via Wikimedia