Happy 60th Birthday

Released: 2 January 2002

Celebrating the work of Professor Stephen Hawking distinguished academics from across the world will gather in Cambridge next week to celebrate the 60th birthday of one of world's most influential and well-known scientists.

Stephen William Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 (300 years after the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. Stephen wanted to do mathematics at University College Oxford but mathematics was not available so he did physics instead. He was awarded a first class honours degree. Stephen then went on to Cambridge to do research in cosmology, there being no-one working in that area in Oxford at the time. In his third year at Oxford, Stephen noticed that he seemed to be getting more clumsy and fell over once or twice for no apparent reason. Shortly after his 21st birthday, he went into hospital for tests. They didn't tell him what he had, except that it was not multiple sclerosis, and that he was an a-typical case. He gathered, however, that they expected it to continue to get worse, and that there was nothing they could do. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Stephen returned to Cambridge and carried on with his research and against the odds finished his PhD. He became a Research Fellow, and later a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College. Since 1979 he has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics - the chair first held by Isaac Barrow, and then in 1669 by Isaac Newton.

Stephen has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. Perhaps his most spectacular achievement was his discovery that black holes are not really black but rather they emit every possible type of elementary particle with the thermal spectrum of a hot body, ultimately ending their lives in a gigantic explosion. Equally remarkable was his proposal that our universe and all it contains is in a unique quantum state having no boundary or edge.

Alongside his many publications, Stephen has three popular books published, has twelve honorary degrees, was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes and is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Commenting on the occasion Professor Ian Halliday, Chief Executive Officer, Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC], the UK's strategic science investment agency, said:

"It gives me great pleasure to be involved in this event to celebrate Stephen's 60th birthday. Not only is Stephen a first class scientist of global renown who can be guaranteed to stimulate debate amongst his peers, but he is also a world ambassador for science. His achievements have gone far beyond the scientific community. Stephen has bought the excitement of fundamental physics to a truly mass audience, raising the awareness and general knowledge of cosmology and physics to an unprecedented level. Undoubtedly enthusing the scientists of the future and ensuring that the UK remains at the forefront of ground breaking scientific discoveries."

The birthday celebrations include a technical scientific workshop from 7 to 10 January 2002 called "The Future of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology". A 60th Birthday Symposium celebrating Professor Stephen Hawking's contributions to fundamental physics and cosmology is also being held at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences on Friday 11 January 2002. The Symposium will include a full day of popular lectures from scientists including the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees; Sir Roger Penrose and Professor Hawking. These events have been made possible by the generous support of the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC); SGI (Silicon Graphics Computer Systems); Dennis and Sally Avery; the London Mathematical Society; the Clay Mathematics Institute; Gonville and Caius College; Trinity Hall and Cambridge University Press.

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