Stephen Hawking: Renowned physicist’s possessions and papers preserved for nation

A vast collection of personal belongings and landmark papers belonging to Professor Stephen Hawking have been gifted to the nation.

The contents of the late British physicist’s office have been handed by his family to London’s Science Museum, while an archive of scientific and personal papers have been given to the University Library in Cambridge, where he lived.

Among the “treasure trove” of items include Professor Hawking’s personalised wheelchairs, voice synthesisers and his original PhD thesis.

The acquisition, announced on Wednesday, was made through the government’s acceptance in lieu scheme, which allows people to pay their inheritance tax bill by donating important cultural, scientific and historical objects to public collection.

The office contents to the Science Museum settles £1.4m tax and his archive to Cambridge University Library settles £2.8m tax.

Described as a “once-in-a-lifetime” acquisition, it includes a “treasure trove” of research papers, personal letters and mementoes of the great scientist’s life.

His children, Lucy, Tim and Robert, said they were “very pleased” to see their father’s work preserved “for the benefit of generations to come”.

“Our father strongly believed that everyone should have the chance to engage with science so he would be delighted that his legacy will be upheld by the Science Museum and Cambridge University Library,” they added.

The renowned scientist died at his Cambridge home on 14 March 2018 at the age of 76.

Diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his twenties, he went on to become known as one of the greatest scientific minds in the history of the world.

Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of A Brief History of Time, he would also embrace areas of popular culture, appearing several times in the TV show The Simpsons.

His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the possibility of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes.

His most famous theoretical breakthrough was the idea that black holes are not really black, but can produce thermal radiation and potentially “evaporate”. Scientists refer to such potential emanations as “Hawking radiation”.

The Science Museum plans to display selected highlights of the acquisition early next year, including his custom-built Permobil F3 Corpus wheelchair.

Also on display will be his glasses, which contained an infrared sensor that he operated by moving his cheek, and other innovative communications devices that generated his famous voice.

The museum will also show documented bets the professor made with fellow scientists, using his thumbprint as authentification.

The Cambridge archive contains letters dating from 1944 to 2008, a first draft of his book A Brief History Of Time, and letters he wrote to popes, US presidents and leading scientists of our time.

Cambridge University Library said the 10,000-page archive joins those of Sir Issac Newton and Charles Darwin, bringing “together three of the most important scientific archives in history under one roof”.

Professor Hawking’s son, Tim, said his family were “delighted” that his father’s body of work and memories were being safeguarded.

He 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 democratised and not be the preserve of the elite few.”

“So I think this body of work will help – hopefully inspire – the next generation to come.”


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