Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest minds of modern physics, has died at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge, England, today (March 14). He was perhaps the most well-known physicist in the world — despite being wheelchair-bound for decades, and communicating via a computerized voice that recorded the minute motion of his cheek muscle.
Hawking was a brilliant student of physics at University of Cambridge when he was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 21. He nevertheless continued working and soon developed a series of groundbreaking theories that would remake the world of physics. In 1966, the cosmologist published his doctoral thesis, which argued that the .
He then went on to reshape our understanding of black holes. Until Hawking's work, scientists believed absolutely nothing could escape a black hole, meaning that a black hole would grow ever larger. But Hawking posited that quantum mechanics essentially allowed black holes to emit particles, a phenomenon now known as Hawking radiation.
Hawking was also a deeply witty popularizer of some of the most esoteric concepts in physics and cosmology, with books such as "A Brief History of Time" (Bantam Books, 1988). In recent years he weighed in on everything from the future of humanity, to , to the chances of , all while continuing to publish important theoretical work in physics.