By Matin Durrani
I travelled up to London last night to attend the official opening of a new exhibition at the Science Museum celebrating the Cambridge University cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who turned 70 earlier this month.
Sadly, Hawking was too ill to attend in person, but he did deliver a “speech” via his trademark voice synthesizer, in which he said that “it has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics”.
“Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 70 years, and I’m happy if I have made a small contribution,” he added.
Hawking went on to say that he wanted to share his “inspiration and enthusiasm” for science. “There’s nothing like the ‘eureka’ moment of discovering something that no-one knew before,” he claimed.
The exhibition, which is fairly small, includes a short letter that Hawking sent to the editor of Nature in 1974 accompanying his paper showing that black holes can emit radiation – a hypothesis that he warned “might cause quite a stir”.
There is also a drawing of Hawking by the artist David Hockney and some other memorabilia, including a copy of a baseball encyclopedia that was the subject of a bet with Caltech physicist John Preskill. Hawking gave Preskill the book in 2004 after conceding that information could be retrieved from a black hole, as Preskill had argued but Hawking had originally denied.
Also present last night was Hawking’s daughter Lucy, who paid tribute to her father and thanked the museum for putting on the display.
Spotted among the attendees was Graham Farmelo, author of a biography of that other great British theoretical physicist, Paul Dirac. Entitled Strangest Man, it was Physics World‘s Book of the Year 2010 and you can listen to an online lecture by Farmelo about Dirac here. Also present last night was Surrey University physicist Jim Al-Khalili, who recently delivered an online lecture for physicsworld.com about the scientific contributions of Muslim scholars.
More details about the exhibition can be found here.