British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has died at the age of 76, according to his family.
Hawking was best known for his work with the theory behind black holes and general relativity. Hawking battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for most of his life, having been diagnosed with the condition when he was just 21 and was given 2 years to live, with most people with ALS living for 2 to 4 years. Hawking fought it for over half a century.
Meanwhile, he continued his research in theoretical physics, eventually showing that black holes emit radiation that we now call Hawking radiation in addition to helping us understand many other aspects of black holes. Hawking also studied subjects like singularities, helping to show evidence for the Big Bang as the starting point for the universe.
Hawking has had a bigger impact on popular culture than just about any other scientist. Sometimes (a lot of times), comedians and shows would poke fun at the awkwardness of the machine-generated speech he used to communicate with the world after his ALS had taken all but his most minute motor functions. But endless amounts of science fiction television and literature have been built off of his theories. His greatest single point of communication with the greater world about his work was his book, A Brief History of Time, which spent a massive 237 weeks at the top of Britain’s best seller list after being published in 1988 and continues to be a popular title even today.
The deep reaches of space continue to be fascinating to us, fueling the creation of one Star Trek show after another, along with hard sci-fi shows like The Expanse and mind-benders like Fringe. Hawking helped make incredibly complex concepts relatable enough to get them out of the laboratory and into our minds.
Even as we continue to learn about the strangeness of deep space, the possibility of alien life, of parallel universes, Hawking’s influence will be felt for a long time to come.