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Stephen Hawking, leading physicist who backed BDS, dies at 76 Open in fullscreen

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Stephen Hawking, leading physicist who backed BDS, dies at 76

Stephen Hawking gave his support to the BDS movement in 2013 [Getty]

Date of publication: 14 March, 2018

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Family members of renowned British scientist Dr. Stephen Hawking announced his death early on Wednesday.

Stephen Hawking, whose brilliant mind ranged across time and space though his body was paralysed by disease, has died, a family spokesman said early on Wednesday.

The best-known theoretical physicist of his time, Hawking wrote so lucidly of the mysteries of space, time and black holes that his book, "A Brief History of Time," became an international best seller, making him one of science's biggest celebrities since Albert Einstein.

"He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years," his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement. "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 forever."

Even though his body was attacked by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, when Hawking was 21, he stunned doctors by living with the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years. A severe attack of pneumonia in 1985 left him breathing through a tube, forcing him to communicate through an electronic voice synthesiser that gave him his distinctive robotic monotone.

But he continued his scientific work, appeared on television and married for a second time.

As one of Isaac Newton's successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics - a "unified theory."

Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.

For Hawking, the search was almost a religious quest — he said finding a "theory of everything" would allow mankind to "know the mind of God."

"A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence," he wrote in "A Brief History of Time."

In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.

He followed up "A Brief History of Time" in 2001 with the more accessible sequel "The Universe in a Nutshell," updating readers on concepts like super gravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

Hawking said belief in a God who intervenes in the universe "to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded in the next life" was wishful thinking.

"But one can't help asking the question: Why does the universe exist?" he said in 1991. "I don't know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me."

The combination of his best-selling book and his almost total disability - for a while he could use a few fingers, later he could only tighten the muscles on his face - made him one of science's most recognisable faces.

Solidarity with Palestinians

As a public figure who made cameo television appearances in "The Simpsons," "Star Trek" and was the subject of the award-winning 2014 film titled "The Theory of Everything," Hawking was credited by colleagues as using his celebrity to generate new enthusiasm for science.

Hawking also used his platform to advocate global issues, including the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

In 2013, the physicist lent his weight to the academic and cultural boycott of Israel by withdrawing from a conference due to be held in June of that year.

According to a statement from Cambridge University at the time, Dr. Hawking made his decision "based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott," according to The Associated Press.

Such was the significance of Hawking's public backing of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, that his

"Never has a scientist of this stature boycotted Israel," Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said at the time.

Against the odds

Hawking was born January 8, 1942, in Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In 1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at Cambridge.

Signs of illness appeared in his first year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease usually kills within three to five years.

According to John Boslough, author of "Stephen Hawking's Universe," Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, "really is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival."

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

He was inducted into the Royal Society in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions she can bestow.

He whizzed about Cambridge at surprising speed - usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake - traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating "inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do."

"I accept that there are some things I can't do," he told The Associated Press in 1997. "But they are mostly things I don't particularly want to do anyway."

Then, grinning widely, he added, "I seem to manage to do anything that I really want."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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