by Xinhua writers Gu Zhenqiu, Jin Jing, Zhang Jiawei
CAMBRIDGE, Britain, March 31 (Xinhua) -- The late world-known physicist Stephen Hawking has inspired the study of the universe, and his legacy "will live forever," a post-doctoral student, who followed the professor in studying black holes in 2010, on Saturday told Xinhua.
Pau Figueras Barnera, who started his research within Hawking's group at the University of Cambridge eight years ago, said that "it is an absolutely astonishing turnout" at the funeral, which was held at the Great St Marys Church in the British university city Saturday afternoon.
"The very touching moment was when his son was talking about his experience of what it was to be Stephen Hawking's son," Figueras said in an interview with Xinhua shortly after he attended the private memorial service.
"The ceremony itself, as you know, wasn't very religious," he said.
Figueras is Hawking's advanced research fellow and visiting academic at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a research fellow and reader at the School of Mathematical Sciences at the School of Mathematical Sciences, Queen Mary, in the University of London.
Hawking, who had motor neurone disease, died on March 14 at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge. He achieved international renown after the publication of his book "A Brief History of Time" in 1988.
Thousands of well-wishers filled the Cambridge streets around the church for the funeral. Flags were lowered to half-mast in many parts of the city to pay tribute to the great scientist, who was crippled from a young age by the degenerative disease.
"Despite his disability, he very much enjoyed his life," he said.
Figueras described Hawking as "the oracle," a temple in ancient Greece where people were supposed to get the interpreted messages from the heaven.
"Professor Hawking is the oracle, he can understand and interpret messages from the universe," he said.
Hawking contributed to the study of the universe but is perhaps best known for his work on the properties of black holes, Figueras said. Hawking inspired global research on the topic, he added.
A black hole is a great amount of matter packed into a very small area -- think of a star tens times more massive than the Sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City. The result is a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.
The term was not coined until 1967 by Princeton physicist John Wheeler.
Scientists began to study black holes in the 1970s, Figueras said. "The way a black hole worked was not understood at that time. Even now, it's not fully understood."
"Stephen was a pilot in this field," he said. "His legacy inspires people to explore the origin of the universe. The issue of black holes are still being pursued by scientists after his death. His legacy will live forever."