But his cultural status -- amplified by his disability and the media storm it invoked -- often overshadowed his scientific legacy. That's a shame for the man who discovered what might prove to be the key clue to the theory of everything, advanced our understanding of space and time, helped shape the course of physics for the last four decades and whose insight continues to drive progress in fundamental physics today. The New York Times: 1970 Dr. Hawking shows that the area of a black hole's event horizon -- a spherical surface marking the point of no return -- can only increase, never decrease, as stuff falls into a black hole or it collides and merges with other black holes.
1971 He suggests that mini black holes much smaller than stars created in the Big Bang could be peppering the universe.
1974 He shocks his colleagues and the world by showing that black holes will leak and explode when quantum effects -- the weird laws that describe subatomic behavior -- are taken into account.
1976 Dr. Hawking says exploding black holes add randomness and unpredictability to the universe, forever erasing information about what might have fallen into a black hole.
Quantum physicists object, saying the universe can't forget, initiating a 40-year argument about the fate of information. Dr. Hawking concedes in 2004, but does not say how information is preserved in a black hole, and the argument continues to this day.
1982 Using a mathematical conceit called imaginary time, Dr. Hawking and James Hartle, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, propose a model of a self-contained universe that has no boundary in space or time, and thus no place or time when the laws of physics break down. [...] Further reading: Stephen Hawking is still underrated (The Atlantic); Science mourns Stephen Hawking's death (Nature); and How it all began: a colleague reflects on the remarkable life of Stephen Hawking (Smithsonian).