Cambridge pays tribute to Hawking
Students were inspired by physicist's tenacity, spirit
The death of Stephen Hawking reverberated around the world but it was particularly resonant at a small college in Cambridge that the physicist described as a "constant thread running through my life".
The flag at Gonville and Caius College was lowered to half-staff in honor of the man who first became a fellow of the college in 1965, and a book of condolences was opened in the porter's lodge.
The college, which was founded in 1348, made sure Hawking could continue his research when, as a young man, his health started to deteriorate. It installed ramps and a lift that connected floors to the dining room, all in an effort to accommodate Hawking at a time when other colleges did not provide wheelchair access.
Leonard Ng, 31, a PhD student from Singapore studying engineering, said Hawking was an inspiration at Cambridge.
"He's taught me tenacity, just to push on, mental discipline in general, and to achieve the objectives I want in life, especially academically," Ng said.
At Caius College, Hawking was more than an academic; he met and entertained generations of students at parties and college dinners, and he later helped the college raise funds.
Alan Fersht, the master of Caius College, who dubbed Hawking "the most famous scientist since Einstein", first met Hawking as an undergraduate 50 years ago.
He said: "Stephen has been a constant presence in Caius, on the surface increasingly frail, yet in many ways seeming indestructible. His loss is a great one for the college. Caius is Stephen－they have been intertwined for over 50 years. His passing will leave a void in the life of the college."
Hawking sailed through his undergraduate physics degree at Oxford University but abandoned his cavalier attitude toward his studies when he arrived at Cambridge to study for a PhD. His illness made his life and work more precious to him and it was in Cambridge that he embarked on a series of discoveries about the workings of the universe that would win him every scientific honor, with the exception of the Nobel Prize.
Fersht said students at Caius College saw Hawking frequently and were inspired by him.
"It was always very exciting when he came in the evenings to dine with everybody. The students would be laughing and so proud to see him here and he has inspired so many of them to do science," he said.
Latterly, Hawking warned of the dangers of autonomous weapons, the likelihood of the destruction of the Earth by climate change or nuclear war, and the possibility of colonizing Mars and other planets.
While these prophesies may seem daunting, many observers welcomed Hawking's positive attitude toward living under the shadow of serious illness and possible death and saw his spirit as an example to all.
He wrote best-selling books about his work, was married twice, fathered three children, appeared on TV shows and films, and took part in a zero-gravity flight after he turned 60.
"He was a man who pushed the limits and showed the world the truth that physical defects could never prevent the achievement of great souls," said Jiang Ao, a Chinese woman who studied real estate finance in Cambridge more than a decade ago.
Xinhua contributed to this story.