Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018), Breakthrough Prize Laureate, Co-Founder Breakthrough Starshot and Breakthrough Listen Science Programs

All at the Breakthrough Foundation were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Stephen Hawking, winner of the 2013 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, as well as cherished partner of the Breakthrough Initiatives.

Hawking was one of the greatest physicists of his generation, as well as an influential science communicator and a man of extraordinary personal courage.

He won the Special Breakthrough Prize for his discovery that black holes emit radiation, now known as Hawking radiation; and for his seminal work at the interface of relativity theory with quantum mechanics. That work illuminated our understanding of both black hole singularities and the Big Bang, and hinted at a deeper theory of quantum gravity. Professor Hawking and his collaborators were the first physicists to attempt the ambitious task of modeling the “wave function of the Universe” – the quantum description of the Universe at the Big Bang and its subsequent evolution. His work was also foundational to the study of information in the context of black holes, which has become perhaps the most fertile area of fundamental physics over the last decades, inspiring work that has won several Breakthrough Prizes. He continued to produce important work in his final years.

In 2015, Hawking and Yuri Milner launched Breakthrough Listen, the biggest ever astronomical research program searching for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth. The following year, he came to New York to join Milner in inaugurating Breakthrough Starshot, the first ever practical attempt to build an interstellar space probe. His support of these ventures exemplified his commitment to thinking seriously about the far future of humanity, the challenges and opportunities we face, and our ultimate place in the cosmos.

The Foundation’s mission is not just to reward great scientists and mathematicians, but also to inspire the public to think about the big questions of life and the Universe. Few if any scientists have contributed as much to this endeavor as Hawking, with his international bestseller A Brief History of Time and other books, as well as his lectures and television appearances. For generations of children and adults, he was the face of physics and a symbol of what the human mind can achieve.

The Foundation sends heartfelt condolences to Hawking’s daughter Lucy, who has partnered with us on the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and other projects, along with all the Hawking family; and to his friends, colleagues and collaborators among the Prize laureates and in the wider physics community.