Professor Stephen Hawking dies, aged 76

Professor Stephen Hawking, the man who stirred interest in all things scientific across the globe, has died.

His family released a statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning (UK time) confirming his death at his Cambridge home.

His children, Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. 

“His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.

“He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him for ever.”

Stephen Hawking floats on a zero-gravity jet in 2007. Photo: AP Photo/Zero Gravity Corp

Stephen Hawking floats on a zero-gravity jet in 2007. Photo: AP Photo/Zero Gravity Corp

Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease as a 21-year-old in 1963, was told he would live just two more years.

Instead he lived with the disease for more than 50 years and made breakthroughs which left the scientific world agog.

The 2014 Oscar-nominated film The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne as Hawking, was based on the early years of Hawking's life. Redmayne won the Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal.

Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 21 in 1963, and was given a life expectancy of two more years. His disease progressed more slowly than originally thought, however, and he went on to continue pursuing research.

In 1970, Hawking had his first major scientific breakthrough, when he and Roger Penrose extended the mathematics of black holes to the entire universe and showed that a singularity was the origin of the big bang. This discovery kicked off a series of further innovations, including the proposal that black holes radiate heat.

Hawking was elected to the Royal Society in 1974 at the young age of 32. Five years later, he became the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, which had formerly been held by Isaac Newton and Charles Babbage and is one of the most prestigious posts in Britain. Hawking held the post for 30 years, then became director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

A Brief History of Time, Hawking's book describing cosmology for laypeople, was published in 1988 and turned him into an international household name.

Professor Stephen Hawking. Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Professor Stephen Hawking. Philip Toscano/PA Wire

Hawking married his first wife Jane in 1965, with whom he had two children and who chronicled their marriage, which eventually broke down in 1991, in her book Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. After their divorce, he married Elaine Mason, one of the nurses who was hired to provide round-the-clock care. Their marriage lasted 11 years.

Hawking was known for his contentiousness and outspoken nature, and courted controversy many times in his life, though he often meant his cracks in good humour. He was known for making scientific bets, many of which he lost.

In 2012, his 70th birthday was celebrated in Cambridge, and though he was not able to attend due to illness, he released a video message entitled A Brief History of Mine.

In it, he called for the continued exploration of space "for the future of humanity".

"Without spreading out into space, humans would not "survive another thousand years," he said.

Last year, he argued that we should prepare for a cosmic exodus to take place in the next 200 to 500 years.

"We are running out of space, and the only place we can go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems," he said via video link to the audience gathered in Trondheim, Norway.

"Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth."

In March last year, he said he no longer felt welcome in the United States, now that President Donald Trump was in power.

Professor Stephen Hawking. Photo: AP, Markus Schreiber

Professor Stephen Hawking. Photo: AP, Markus Schreiber

"The reaction to the election of Donald Trump may have been overdone, but it represents a definite swing to a right-wing, more authoritarian approach," Hawking said about the negative response to Trump's election.

Of the United States, he said: "I have many friends and colleagues there, and it is still a place I like and admire in many ways. But I fear that I may not be welcome."

Leading up to the US presidential election, Hawking was cheekily asked whether he could explain Trump's rise to presidential candidacy.

"I can't," Hawking said. "He's a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator."

Asked now about that statement, Hawking elaborated on Trump's victory and his first two months in office.

"Trump was elected by people who felt disenfranchised by the governing elite in a revolt against globalisation," Hawking said.

with Australian Associated Press