British theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking has died peacefully at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge during the early hours of this morning.

Known worldwide for his work concerning black holes and relativity, as well as several popular scientific books including A Brief History of Time – Prof Hawking was the first to set out a theory of cosmology explained by a union of the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He also discovered that black holes leak energy and fade to nothing – later becoming known as Hawking radiation. Despite being told at the age of 22 that he would have only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease, he has defied the world.

In a statement his children, Lucy, Robert and Tim, said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today.

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

For many his courage and persistence will be sorely missed, with his brilliance and humour inspiring people across the world.

Prof Hawking once quoted, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” Touching words from such a remarkable person who has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake.

A book of condolence will be opened at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, where Prof Hawking was a fellow.

Prof Hawking worked alongside mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, demonstrating that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

It wasn’t just the academic world that Prof Hawking had a keen audience but also in mainstream media, appearing in several TV shows including The Simpsons, Red Dwarf and The Big Bang Theory.

He was also portrayed in film – with the recent Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne capturing his life in The Theory of Everything.

Redmayne stated: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

“My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”

Prof Lord Martin Rees, was at university with Prof Hawking when he was diagnosed, saying his friend had “amazing willpower and determination”.

“Even mere survival would have been a medical marvel, but of course he didn’t just survive,” he said. “He became one of the most famous scientists in the world.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has called him a “brilliant and extraordinary mind” and “one of the great scientists of his generation”.

She added: “His courage, humour and determination to get the most from life was an inspiration.

“His legacy will not be forgotten.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also praised the scientist for his “determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos” and his “burning passion to protect our National Health Service.”

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, was one of the first people to pay tribute to Prof Hawking.

“We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit. Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking,” he said.

The vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge – where Prof Hawking studied and worked – Professor Stephen Toope, has said he was a “unique individual” who would be greatly remembered with “warmth and affection”.

He added: “His exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge and the popularisation of science and mathematics have left an indelible legacy. His character was an inspiration to millions.”

Prof James Hartle, who worked with him to create the Hartle-Hawking wave-function to explain the Big Bang, said Prof Hawking had a “unique” ability to “see through all the clutter in physics” and get to the point.

British astronaut Tim Peake said Prof Hawking “inspired generations to look beyond our own blue planet and expand our understanding of the universe”.

He added: “His personality and genius will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family.”

Prof Hawking in his 2013 memoir described how he felt when he was first diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

“I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me,” he wrote.

“At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realise the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life.”