Professor Hawking awarded top US civilian honour

S. Hawking

Professor Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, has been awarded the Pres

idential Medal of Freedom. He will collect his award from the US president Barack Obama at a ceremony held in the White House today, Wednesday 12 August.

Professor Hawking, a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, is one of 16 honourees this year, of the prestigious recognition. The recipients are from a variety of fields such as politics, sport and medicine and were chosen for their work as agents for change.

Other recipients this year include Muhammad Yunus, Desmond Tutu and Billy Jean King. Dr Yunus won the Nobel peace prize in 2006 for his role in poverty alleviation thorough micro-finance schemes. Former Archbishop Tutu was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, and King was a famous tennis player and has since been campaigning for gender equality in sports and other areas of public life.

In addition to his scientific research, Professor Hawking has written three popular science books, including the bestselling A Brief History of Time. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom in recognition of these popular science publications and for making his research accessible to all members of the public.

On learning of his award, Professor Hawking commented: "I am delighted and honoured to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is a great privilege to be awarded the Medal, especially by President Obama, whom I admire deeply. I am very much looking forward to travelling to Washington in order to meet this remarkable man and to receive the Medal of Freedom on behalf of myself, my family, my friends and my colleagues in science worldwide."

President Obama said of this year's recipients: "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.

"Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honour to award them the Medal of Freedom."

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the US and aims to recognise individuals who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours. Established in 1945, over 250 have been awarded.