British scientist Stephen Hawking dead at age 76: family spokesman

British scientist Stephen Hawking in his office at the University of Cambridge where he is Director of Research for the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and founder of the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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British scientist Stephen Hawking dead at age 76: family spokesman

LONDON: Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose mental genius and physical disability made him a household name and inspiration across the globe, has died at age 76, his family said Wednesday.
Hawking, whose 1988 book "A Brief History of Time" became an unlikely worldwide bestseller and cemented his superstar status, dedicated his life to unlocking the secrets of the Universe.
His genius and wit won over fans from far beyond the rarified world of astrophysics, earning comparisons with Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton.
Hawking died peacefully at his home in the British university city of Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
"We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today," professor Hawking's children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim said in a statement carried by Britain's Press Association news agency.
"He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years."
Hawking defied predictions he would only live for a few years after developing a form of motor neurone disease in 1964 at the age of 22.
The illness gradually robbed him of mobility, leaving him confined to a wheelchair, almost completely paralysed and unable to speak except through his trademark voice synthesiser.
"His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world," his family said.
"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."
Born on January 8, 1942 -- 300 years to the day after the death of the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei -- Stephen William Hawking became one of the world's most well-regarded scientists and entered the pantheon of science titans.
His death was announced on the 139th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein.
Inside the shell of his increasingly useless body was a razor-sharp mind, with an enduring fascination with the mysteries of black holes.
His work focused on bringing together relativity -- the nature of space and time -- and quantum theory -- how the smallest particles behave -- to explain the creation of the Universe and how it is governed.
"My goal is simple," he once said. "It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all."
But he was also a beloved figure in popular culture, with cameos in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons", while his voice appeared in Pink Floyd songs.
Tributes began pouring in from scientists and celebrities around the world, lauding him as an inspiration.
American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted his condolences, with a characteristically cosmological reference.
"His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure," the scientist said.
Professor Alan Duffy, a Research Fellow in the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at The Royal Institution of Australia, described Hawking's work as "legendary".
"His writings were inspirational to many scientists and enriched the lives of millions with the latest science and cosmic perspectives," he said.
Hawking's first marriage to Jane Wilde in 1965 gave him three children and was immortalised in the 2014 film "The Theory of Everything".
The couple split after 25 years and he married his former nurse, Elaine Mason, but the union broke down amid allegations, denied by him, of abuse.
Hawking became one of the youngest fellows of Britain's most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society, at the age of 32.
In 1979 he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University -- a post previously held by Newton -- where he had moved from Oxford University to study theoretical astronomy and cosmology.
Hawking was an outspoken commentator on life back on earth, voicing his disapproval in recent years of both the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and Britain's vote to leave the European Union.
He was unafraid of ruffling the feathers of the religious, dismissing the concept of an afterlife in a 2011 Guardian interview.
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first," he said at the time.
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark," he added.


Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

Updated 18 August 2018
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Taliban’s Ghazni assault sparks new Pak-Afghan tensions

  • Pakistan’s Foreign Office says Afghanistan has not shared any evidence to support its recent allegations against Pakistan
  • Imran Khan’s idea of a soft border between Pakistan and Afghanistan may have suffered a big setback in the wake of the Ghazni attack

PESHAWAR: In the backdrop of the Taliban’s brazen assault on the southern city of Ghazni in Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani alleged that the bodies of the perpetrators had arrived in Pakistan, though Islamabad maintained that Kabul had not officially shared any information or evidence in this regard.
Soon after that, the Afghan president said in a fiery speech to a jirga in Ghazni: “I have a message for Pakistan. Dead bodies (of the Taliban) have arrived in (Pakistan). Peace cannot be forcefully imposed on Afghanistan. Where did they (Taliban) come from and why are they being treated in (Pakistani) hospitals?”
But Pakistan strongly rejected reports claiming that some Taliban fighters involved in the Ghazni attack had been offered medical treatment in its hospitals.
In the absence of any official communication through regular channels established bilaterally, such reports cannot be given any credence, said Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
Haq Nawaz, a senior Peshawar-based security analyst, told Arab News that the newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a string of daunting challenges, such as economic revival, political stability, tackling corruption, and improving relations with his country’s immediate neighbors.
However, he added that recent developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have stepped up violent activities, will probably constitute a much bigger predicament for the new political administration.
He recalled that Khan had mentioned in his victory speech that he wanted a European Union-style soft border with Afghanistan, claiming that the idea had seemingly received a setback after the Ghazni attack.
“The latest bout of allegations will have a negative impact on the process of reviving good relations between the two neighboring countries,” Nawaz noted.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa also expressed “deep concern” over the recent surge in violence in Afghanistan and lamented in a statement released by the military’s media wing the loss of precious lives.
Bajwa reiterated that Pakistan was not supporting terrorist activities inside Afghanistan. He added that the allegation about the movement of injured or dead terrorists from Ghazni to Pakistan was incorrect.
However, the army chief noted that there were scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan, and that some of them periodically fell victim to acts of terrorism along with their Afghan brothers inside Afghanistan. “Terming such victims as terrorists is unfortunate,” he maintained.
Yet, the Afghan president sought an explanation from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership on the Ghazni attack.
“Imran Khan, you are the son of Pashtun parents. Investigate this and give me an answer. General Bajwa, you have repeatedly given me assurances over phone calls that special attention would be given to the issue of peace in Afghanistan once elections took place in Pakistan. Now give me an answer,” Ghani said while addressing a group of tribal elders attending the jirga.
Bajwa said that different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan hiding in their sanctuaries in Afghanistan after assuming Afghan identities, were transported to Pakistan for medical help after receiving injuries.
Nawaz said the Afghan government should share relevant evidence with Pakistan in this case, arguing that using the media or social media to deal with such serious and sensitive developments can worsen the situation.
He said it was not just a statement or allegation from an ordinary official since the claim was made by a head of state, adding that both countries should settle such teething issues through dialogue and diplomatic channels.
However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in its statement: “Such reports can only be viewed as malicious propaganda to vitiate the existing cooperation between the two countries.”