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Across the universe, Stephen Hawking remembered

Sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik put the final touches on a sculpture honoring British physicst Stephen Hawking in India.
Asit Kumar/AFP/Getty Images
Sand artist Sudarsan Patnaik put the final touches on a sculpture honoring British physicst Stephen Hawking in India.

LONDON - Tributes from around the world began to pour in Wednesday for Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s most famous scientists, who died age 76.

Hawking, an intellectual giant who became an international symbol the power of the human mind, died peacefully at his home in Cambridge, England.

The celebrated British physicist probed the mysteries of the cosmos and helped to popularize science with books like ‘‘A Brief History of Time,’’ an international bestseller.

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When he was just 21, he was diagnosed with a rare form of motor neuron disease and told by doctors he had only a few years to live. His illness left him unable to move a muscle and he could only talk with the help of a voice synthesizer.

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A spokesman for Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences that hands out the Nobel Prizes in physics says Hawking ‘‘was a great scientist who made considerable contributions to science.’’

Goran Hansson says Hawking’s death “is a loss for the world of science.’’ He declined to comment on whether Hawking should have been awarded the prestigious prize, in line with the Nobel policy.

On Wednesday morning, ‘‘Stephen Hawking’’ was trending worldwide on social media.

NASA, the U.S. space agency, tweeted:

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The founder of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee said:

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted:

‘‘We lost a great one today,’’ wrote Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft.

The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said his passing had ‘‘left an intellectual vacuum.’’

It wasn’t just the scientists that mourned his passing, but tributes came from 10 Downing Street as well, where the prime minister’s account celebrated him as an ‘‘inspiration’’ and one of the ‘‘great scientists of his generation.’’

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Top physicists working at the world’s largest particle accelerator paid tribute to Hawking as one of the great ‘‘stars’’ of physics, lauding his impact on their work and his fight against his physically debilitating illness.

Director-General Fabiola Gianotti of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, hailed Hawking for the ‘‘enthusiasm, vitality and passion for knowledge’’ that he showed during visits to the Large Hadron Collider and related facilities in and around Geneva.

In a statement, she said: ‘‘He was a brilliant example on how to face disease with courage. He was a warrior.’’

CERN’s head of theoretical physics Gian Giudice says Hawking’s work had a ‘‘great impact’’ on research at the organization.

Hawking also was a cultural phenomena, appearing on shows like ‘‘The Simpsons’’ and ‘‘The Big Bang Theory’’ as well as an episode ‘‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’’ in which he played poker with actors portraying Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Films were also made about his life, including ‘‘The Theory of Everything,’’ which saw Eddie Redmayne win an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking.

Redmayne paid tribute to Hawking on Wednesday. In a statement, the actor said: ‘‘We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.’’

The British actor played the mathematical genius across decades of physical degeneration — all under Hawking’s watchful gaze. Redmayne said at the time of the film that Hawking wanted to live life to the full — and that he always had a glint in his eye.

Hawking was also known for his wit and sense of humor. Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at Harvard, recalled that when he gave lectures he would add in jokes even when it was difficult for him to speak.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.