Stephen Hawking tributes to one of the greatest minds in science

The University has paid tribute to one of the greatest minds in science and honorary graduate Professor Stephen Hawking on the news of his death.

The University of Cambridge announced the sad news on 14 March. He began his career at Cambridge in 1962 as a PhD student and rose to become the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Isaac Newton, in 1979.

Professor Hawking broke new ground on the basic laws which govern the universe, including the revelation that black holes have a temperature and produce radiation, now known as Hawking radiation. At the same time, he also sought to explain many of these complex scientific ideas to a wider audience through popular books, most notably his bestseller A Brief History of Time. The 2014 film The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne was based on his life.

Professor Hawking was honoured by the University of Leicester in 1982 with an honorary Doctor of Science degree. He subsequently visited the campus for our 50th anniversary celebrations in 2008, making history by giving what was our biggest ever lecture at that time, attended by over 1000 people. In his illustrated lecture, Professor Hawking provided an overview of different theories relating to the origins of the universe. These included African folklore, Soviet ideas, theological beliefs as well as those put forward by philosophers and scientists.

Before his lecture he toured the University campus, meeting with academics and students from our Department of Physics and Astronomy and visiting Attenborough Arts (at that time, The Richard Attenborough Centre) where he learned about the work the centre does in encouraging diverse audiences to access the arts.

Daniel Brandt, a doctoral student at the time, said: “It is fantastic to meet the most famous modern physicist and one of the greatest minds of all time. Almost anything we can do in theoretical physics or cosmology is somehow connected to the work of Stephen Hawking - it is a real privilege to have met with him.”

Staff at Leicester have paid their own personal tributes to Professor Hawking on the news of his death:

Professor Paul O’Brien, Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Stephen Hawking was not just a remarkable scientist but also a remarkable person. He refused to let his medical condition stop him having a full life, not only contributing scientifically but reminding us what being human is all about.”

Professor Martin Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Strategic Science Projects and Director of the Leicester Institute of Space & Earth Observation, said: “Professor Stephen Hawking was a remarkable scientist working on some of the most challenging problems in physics. He was also an amazing communicator of science and lived life to the full with dignity and humour. I think that the true legacy of his work will only be realised in the next decades as our observational capabilities catch up with his insight. I would like to pass on my condolences to his friends and family.”

Dr Simon Gill, Reader in Engineering, said: "I had a fascinating and enjoyable year working for Stephen as his graduate assistant from 1992-93. As well as his scientific brilliance, Stephen will be remembered for speaking out on issues close to his heart and his great sense of humour. I particularly remember one episode where we had been concerned that his old speech synthesizer circuit was at risk of failure. We spent an afternoon trying out a few other more modern candidates as potential backups. One came with the ability to switch from (very proper) English to Spanish, French or German. I remember the Spanish accent was particularly strong and it spoke very fast, which kept us amused for quite a time. Of course, his distinctive synthetic voice became famous around the world and he would never have willingly changed it. He enjoyed a glass of “New castle of pope”, aka Chateauneuf du Pape. This was one instance where the French speech synthesizer would have been useful. Due to his disability, many aspects of his daily life were quite tough. Even without all his great achievements, it is impossible to know him and not admire his fortitude under these circumstances. And especially with a sense of humour. He will be fondly remembered."

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