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Hawking’s private processions to go on display

a young stephen hawking
a young stephen hawking Image credit:

Personal items belonging to Professor Stephen Hawking are to be displayed at London’s Science Museum to pay tribute to his life and career.

Possessions such as letters between the Professor and popes, presidents and scientists will go on show alongside his iconic glasses with a sensor which was controlled by Hawking’s cheek, scientific bets signed by his thumbprint and one of his last wheelchairs in 2022.

Up until 2008 Stephen had the mobility to control communications equipment by clicking his fingers, when his condition deteriorated he was given a pair of spectacles which could carry out the actions via an infrared LED and receiver plugged into an analogue switch controlled by blinking movements so they could be turned on and off.

Paying tribute to her late father Stephen’s daughter Lucy Hawking said: "He was a scientist, he was a campaigner, he was a very courageous man, he was a medical miracle, he was a friend to all sorts of extraordinary people. And yet, of course, he was our father as well."

Sir Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, said the exhibits will allow visitors to put themselves into the mind of a scientist who "defied the laws of medicine to rewrite the laws of physics and touch the heart of millions".

Other personal items of Hawking’s going on show next year will include letters he wrote as a child, scripts from TV appearances and documents charting his extensive research into black holes. The items will be displayed in a reconstruction of his office at the museum.

"By preserving Hawking's office, future generations will be able to delve deep into the world of a leading theoretical physicist who defied the laws of medicine to rewrite the laws of physics and touch the heart of millions," Sir Ian said.

"These remarkable items might even inspire the next Hawking to wonder about the world around us."

Hawking’s son, Tim, said: "Our father would be really pleased. It was really important during his lifetime that science be opened up to the widest possible number of people and be democratized and not be the preserve of the elite few."

One of the most poignant items is a letter the six-year-old Stephen wrote to his father on headed notepaper where he tells his dad a story about pirates loading treasure.

Tim, who saw the message for the first time just a few months ago, said: "I would write my dad letters along those lines.

"It was quite nice to see it being passed along the generations and appreciating that he had a loving relationship with his dad, as I did when I was (that) age. It shows a tenderness in his relationship with his father which I hadn't fully understood until now."

Among the TV scripts are memories from Stephen’s appearance in The Simpsons when he becomes interested in Homer’s “doughnut-shaped universe” theory and ponders if he can steal the idea.

Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University's director of library services, said: "He had an enormous sense of humour. He was willing to be in the Simpsons, to let fun be taken, if what that did was to help communicate science and help people get excited about it.”

The Professor’s research on the universe and black holes are expected to attract the most attention. One of his fellow workers at Cambridge University, Prof Paul Shellard, reflected on Hawking’s fascination with Space.

"It's a wonderful thing that historians of science can get an idea of how Stephen thought about these problems," Prof Shellard explained. "He saw further than others and I hope that (his) intuition and way of thinking will come through in the archive and be remembered in perpetuity."

Doctors told Professor Stephen Hawking he wouldn’t live past his early 20s, he was 76 when he died on 14 March 2018.