Robert Edwards, the British Nobel Laureate who pioneered the development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF ) that led to the birth of the world’s first “test tube baby” , died on Wednesday after a long illness, Cambridge University said. He was 87.

“It is with deep sadness that the family announces that Professor Sir Robert Edwards, Nobel prize winner, scientist and co-pioneer of IVF, passed away peacefully in his sleep on 10th April 2013 after a long illness. He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues. Please respect the family’s privacy at this sad time,” it said in a statement.

Sir Robert, who founded the world’s first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall in Cambridge in 1980 and developed IVF with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, started work on fertilisation in the 1950s .

The first test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in July 1978 at Oldham General Hospital.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2010 and knighted a year later in recognition of his contribution to science.

As tributes poured in, Professor Martin Johnson, who was Sir Robert’s first graduate student at Cambridge, described him as a “remarkable man” whose work had a life-changing effect on people around the world.

“He was not only a visionary in his science but also in his communication to the wider public about matters scientific in which he was a great pioneer. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues, students, his family and all the many people he has helped to have children,” he said.

Louise Brown has often joked that her schoolmates thought she was born in a laboratory. Being the only child, she said she felt “completely alone” until her sister Natalie was born using the same technique.