The Archbishop of Canterbury has paid tribute to world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who died in Cambridge early on Wednesday morning at the age of 76.

Among tributes from around the world following news of his death, Archbishop Justin Welby tweeted that "Professor Stephen Hawking’s contribution to science was as limitless as the universe he devoted his life to understanding".

"His was a life lived with bravery and passion," he said. "As we pray for all those who mourn him, may he rest in peace."

UK Prime Minister Theresa May described Dr Hawking as "one of the greatest scientists of his generation".

Dr Hawking, who described himself as an atheist in a 2014 interview with a Spanish newspaper, was a former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge - a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton - and author of the best-selling 1988 book on cosmology, A Brief History of Time. Scientists have paid tribute to his work in understanding aspects of the universe, particularly black holes.

Dr Hawking had spent much of his life in a wheelchair after he was diagnosed in 1963 with degenerative nerve disorder ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) at the age of 21. Dr Hawking, whose pop culture appearances included in The Simpsons, lost his speech completely in 1985 and subsequently communicated through an electronic voice synthesiser which carried an American accent. The 2014 Academy Award-winning film, The Theory of Everything, was based on his life.

In a statement following his death, his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said Dr Hawking, who married twice, was a "great scientist" and an "extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years".