Science museum

Stephen Hawking’s desk on display at the Science Museum

Next month, just after Professor Stephen Hawking would have turned 80, the Science Museum will open a new exhibition dedicated to the professional life of the world-renowned theoretical physicist. The exhibition will feature significant objects from Hawking’s office, providing insight into a scientist who challenged perceptions of theoretical physics with a playful, imaginative and social approach to work.

Professor Stephen Hawking in his office at the University of Cambridge, commissioned by the Science Museum Group in 2011 to mark Hawking’s 70th birthday (c) Sarah Lee

The Science Museum acquired the collection last year as part of a £4.2million Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) deal, which allowed his family to offset inheritance tax by donating gifts of equal value to the nation – rather than perhaps having to auction them off. , which could have seen them leave the country. His personal papers and documents will remain in Cambridge where he worked, while items such as his wheelchairs, voice synthesizers and personal memorabilia have been donated to the Science Museum.

As a scientist, Hawking took a playful approach to collaboration. This is exemplified by one of Hawking’s most prized possessions: a blackboard covered in doodles from the Superspace and Supergravity conference in 1980. Delegates covered the blackboard with equations, cartoons and jokes about each other. others. Hawking had this memento framed and hung in his office and now, forty years later, curators at the Science Museum have stabilized the chalk dust so it can continue to be enjoyed by those who view it.

Hawking’s sense of humor is further exemplified by one of his favorite pastimes, betting with his peers on scientific debates. Perhaps the most famous is the Black Hole Information Paradox bet he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill and visitors can see the bet that Hawking signed with his fingerprint.

Bet made by Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne with John Preskill, on the possibility of recovering information from a black hole, February 6, 1997 (c) Science Museum Group

The latest generation of wheelchairs used by Hawking will be on display: the Permobil F3 model. Jonathan Wood, Hawking’s graduate assistant, noted that it was much more than just a wheelchair – it was also his voice, the way he communicated his ideas to the world, his ventilation support and his mobile office. .

Also on display will be Hawking’s rare doctoral thesis, his glasses adapted to facilitate communication and even an invitation to Hawking’s time traveler party.

Detail of the first generation speech synthesizer used by Stephen Hawking (c) Science Museum Group

The exhibition opens on February 10 and will be free to visit – you will need to book a free ticket from here. The exhibition will then run at the Science Museum in London until June 22, after which it will tour the other Science Museum locations, first to Manchester, then to Bradford, York and Shildon over the next two years. .