Professor Stephen Hawking visits the Science Museum

29/02/2012

Professor Stephen Hawking visits the Science Museum

Prof Stephen Hawking signalled his return to health today with a public visit to a special exhibit to celebrate his birthday, on show at the Science Museum in London.

Last month (January) illness forced the Cambridge University cosmologist to miss a VIP reception at the museum in honour of his birthday and the opening of the new exhibit, Stephen Hawking: A 70th Birthday Celebration.

That was the second major birthday party he had missed due to ill health. Prof Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, turned 70 on 8 January but was unable to attend a birthday symposium and celebration in Cambridge on that day.

'It was wonderful that Stephen Hawking was well enough to visit the museum today so that he could at last see the exhibit we put on to celebrate his 70th,' commented Roger Highfield, the museum's Director of External Affairs. 'When our visitors saw him come into the museum there was a fantastic buzz of excitement and a big crowd gathered'.

Highfield led the visitors who were present in giving a late but heartfelt chorus of Happy Birthday. Prof Hawking beamed in appreciation and typed 'thanks' on his computer.

Today, Prof Hawking was also given a special gift from the Science Museum's inventor in residence, Mark Champkins.

Entitled "black hole light", Mark explained to Prof Hawking how it consists of illuminated spirals of light to symbolise a black hole and ‘Hawking radiation’, a reference to his famous prediction that black holes will give off radiation, the fruits of his efforts to reconcile theories of the very big (general relativity) and very small (quantum theory).

Champkins explained: "I rather liked the idea of uniting the technology that led to the discovery of sub-atomic particles, and in turn, to the birth of quantum physics (in the form of a Geissler-inspired neon tube) with a form that is representative of the path light would take spiralling into a black hole. Mixing Cosmology with Quantum Physics, I've tried to reconcile them in one artefact. It's something of a metaphor for his work, especially his identification of Hawking Radiation and I hope it can also serve a practical purpose in his home or office."

Prof Hawking was taken on a tour of the Science Museum, which he describes as ‘one of my favourite places’.

This first ever display of items from the Hawking archive encourages visitors to reflect on the relationship between Hawking’s scientific achievements, particularly the work that established his reputation in the 1960s and '70s, and his immense success in popularising astrophysics. Hawking and his daughter Lucy have been involved in the selection of objects for display.

Alison Boyle, Curator of Astronomy, Science Museum, said: "We have been very privileged to explore Professor Hawking’s archives, discovering early drafts of his hugely influential scientific papers alongside a rich array of popular material. We hope that the selection we have chosen to display will offer a unique insight into the career of the world's best-known scientist."

* Display features two main strands on Professor Hawking's scientific work and public profile including:

- Professor Hawking's drawing of the Hawking Radiation mechanism
- A draft of Hawking’s and Roger Penrose's 1970s paper on the singularities of spacetime
- A model of the gravitational pull of a black hole made for Professor Hawking
- The blue suit worn by Professor Hawking for a zero-gravity flight, 2007
- Selection of awards: 2006 Copley Medal, 1989 Prince of Asturias Award, 2010 Cosmos Award
- Professor Hawking's annotated script for a 1999 guest appearance on The Simpsons
- Selection of international editions of A Brief History of Time

* A rarely-seen 1978 portrait by David Hockney

* The display also features audio, specially recorded by Professor Hawking for the exhibition, and a projection of photographs from his life and career, many previously unseen.

More information: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/hawking

Ends
For further information please contact, Nicola Ryan, Science Museum Press Office – Nicola.ryan@sciencemuseum.org.uk / 020 7942 4328/4364/4353. @Nicola1PR See #hawkings

Visitor Information:
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD. Open daily 10.00 to 18.00, except 24-26 December. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk / 0870 870 4868
@sciencemuseum www.facebook.com/sciencemuseumlondon

Notes to Editors

Science Museum's inventor in residence, Mark Champkins, explains his 'Black Hole Light': "I rather liked the idea of uniting the technology that led to the discovery of sub-atomic particles, and in turn, to the birth of quantum physics (in the form of a Geissler-inspired neon tube) with a form that is representative of the path light would take spiralling into a black hole. Mixing Cosmology with Quantum Physics, I've tried to reconcile them in one artefact. It's something of a metaphor for his work, especially his identification of Hawking Radiation and I hope it can also serve a practical purpose in his home or office."

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