Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge. A brilliant scientist and visionary, Hawking advanced cosmology as a computational science and led the launch of several UK supercomputers dedicated to cosmology and particle physics.
Considered one of the greatest minds of our time, Professor Hawking brought his passion for science into the public sphere through his writing, lectures, television appearances and collaboration on biographical films. He was world renowned for his work with black holes and relativity and wrote the best-selling “A Brief History of Time” as well as several other popular science books.
Professor Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology linking general relativity and quantum mechanics. He also showed that black holes emit energy due to quantum effects near the event horizon, a phenomenon today known as Hawking radiation. He was a proponent of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Professor Hawking was on the forefront of transforming cosmology from a largely speculative endeavor to a quantitative and predictive science. “Without supercomputers, we would just be philosophers,” he has stated.
Hawking led the founding of the COSMOS supercomputing facility in 1997. Last December, the center deployed an HPE Superdome Flex in-memory computing platform to process massive data sets that represent 14 billion years of history.
“Curiosity is essential to being human,” said Hawking at the time of the collaboration. “From the dawn of humanity we’ve looked up at the stars and wondered about the Universe around us. My COSMOS group is working to understand how space and time work, from before the first trillion trillionth of a second after the big bang up to today, fourteen billion years later.”
In November 2015, the Stephen Hawking Centre for Theoretical Cosmology was recognized with the HPCwire Readers’ Choice Award for Best Use of High Performance Data Analytics. The award was for the many-core acceleration of the MODAL analysis pipeline which offered new statistical insights from the Cosmic Microwave Background as observed by the ESA Planck Satellite. The work was achieved on the Intel Xeon Phi-enabled SGI UV2000, developed in collaboration with the STFC DiRAC HPC Facility and the largest shared-memory computer in Europe at the time.
Professor Hawking was an inspiration to people around the world for his brilliant scientific achievements and for his determination and good humor in living with a disability. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1963 when he was 21, and outliving his doctors’ prognosis by decades, Hawking used a wheelchair and communicated through a computerized voice system. “The ability to see the lighter side of life and his perseverance in the face of adversity were important aspects of his warm and open personality,” remarked friends and colleagues in a tribute. “He was a living demonstration that there should be no boundary to human endeavour.”
Speaking at the opening of the 2012 London Paralympics games, Hawking said, “There is no such thing as a standard run-of-the mill human being. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.”
Professor Hawking was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Other distinguished honors he has received include the Copley Medal of the Royal Society, the Albert Einstein Award, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Fundamental Physics Prize, and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for Basic Sciences. He was a Fellow of The Royal Society, a Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.
Hawking leaves behind three children and three grandchildren.
In a statement, Hawking’s children said: “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.”
Feature image: Stephen Hawking giving a talk at the “Gravity and Black Holes” public symposium in 2017 to mark his 75th birthday. (Credit: Sir Cam)