Professor Stephen Hawking, possibly the most famous modern scientist, has died at the age of 76, after beating enormous odds to survive and work for 55 years with the debilitating motor neurone disease.
Hawking had an exceptionally brilliant mind. He became the prestigious Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University at just 35. But by then he had been slowly losing his physical abilities for years, since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21. The degenerative disease is generally considered a death sentence: doctors originally gave him two years to live.
But Hawking confounded all expectations. He carried out groundbreaking research into black holes and the nature of the universe. He married twice and had three children. And he managed to popularise astrophysics with an extraordinary capacity for communicating complex scientific theories to non-scientists. His 1988 book A Brief History of Time has sold more than 10 million copies. This was despite the enormous effort it took him to communicate at all. He lost the ability to speak in 1985, and used a single muscle in his face to spell out words, which were then spoken by the synthesised voice which became famous around the world.
He became the go-to scientist for opinions on everything from extra-terrestrial life to artificial intelligence and the existence of God.
For all his scientific rigour, Hawking also had a wicked sense of humour. One of his many quips was:
"The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognised. It is not enough for me to wear dark glasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away."That celebrity also helped make him a force for change in the perception of disabled people in society. In 2011, he told The New York Times:
"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit, as well as physically."
It was a motto he lived by right up to the end.
If you'd like to discuss Stephen Hawking with your class, we've updated our B1 Ready to Use Resource about the scientist.