Feature: Cambridge University students, staff pay tribute to inspiring physicist Stephen Hawking

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by Xinhua writer Zhang Jiawei

"He is the well-respected professor who can guide you through complicated topics with his succinct words," said Xiao.

Hawking also brought inspiration to many aspiring students.

"Hawking is an icon of our time," said Professor Jianjun Mei, director of the Needham Research Institute, "and the story about his life and his unremitting pursuit of the depth of universe will be remembered for many generations."

For most of his adult life, Hawking had to face the ever-worsening symptoms of motor neurone disease, which severely restricted his mobility and even threatened his life.

Hawking's story inspired many people, including Burgess' father who was diagnosed with the same disease in 1994 and died in 2011.

But he refused to let his disability slow him down and he went on to make stellar achievements in his academic career. He pointed out in an article on his website that the disease "has not prevented me from having a very attractive family and being successful in my work."

Burgess felt especially grateful to Hawking since his fight against motor neurone disease had inspired her father, who was suffering from the same disease.

"I wanted to thank him for the inspiration he gave to my dad to keep living and to keep looking up to the stars," Burgess, who lives in Britain's Lincolnshire, told Xinhua.

Hawking was keen to share his thoughts on various topics including the universe, artificial intelligence and the future of human beings with students at Cambridge.

Hawking died at the age of 76. The world is mourning the passing of a physicist who dedicated his academic career to revealing the depths of the universe.

Chaowei Xiao is a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge. When he was a high school student, he had read Hawking's bestselling science book "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes."

The flag at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, where Hawking served as a fellow since 1965, were flying at half-mast.

Admirers of Hawking brought flowers to the college. People queued in the antechapel at the college to leave their handwritten messages of condolences.

LONDON, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Trish Burgess, a graduate of the University of Cambridge, arrived at the campus to pay tribute to Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist who had passed away on Wednesday.

"That book opened up the world of science to me," Xiao told Xinhua. "I think many Chinese students want to study at Cambridge because of their admiration for Hawking's achievement."

Burgess was among these visitors. Although she had never met Hawking in person, she and her family seemed to have "an affinity" with him.

"I felt that my father traveled the same journey as him with his disease," recalled Burgess. "He also defied the odds and lived longer."