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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 22:51 GMT
Hawking celebrates own brief history
Professor Stephen Hawking, AP
Professor Stephen Hawking turns 60 on Tuesday
Stephen Hawking, the world famous Cambridge physicist, celebrates his 60th birthday on Tuesday.

Stephen [is] a first class scientist of global renown who can be guaranteed to stimulate debate amongst his peers

Professor Ian Halliday
Professor Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the UK university, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton, and, as a cosmologist, studies the basic laws governing the Universe.

His book, A Brief History Of Time, became an international best-seller - although it is thought many who bought the book never quite finished it because of the complexity of some of the concepts contained within it.

Nevertheless, Professor Hawking has achieved a popular status enjoyed by few scientists, even making guest appearances on The Simpsons cartoon show and Star Trek.

To mark his own brief history, a celebratory symposium is to be held in Cambridge on Friday. It will be addressed by Professor Hawking himself, his collaborator Sir Roger Penrose, and the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees.

Disappearing black holes

"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," says Professor Ian Halliday, CEO of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PParc), the body that funds most of the UK's physics and astronomy effort.

"Stephen has brought 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," he adds.

Professor Hawking explains on his own website that one of his achievements has been to show, together with Sir Roger Penrose, that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implies space and time have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

He also proposed that black holes should not be completely black, but should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear.

"Stephen Hawking is one of the people who've contributed most to our understanding of gravity - among all living scientists - through his understanding of black holes, and of what might have happened at the beginning of the Universe," Professor Rees told the BBC.

Investment advice

Diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his early twenties, Professor Hawking uses a speech synthesiser running on a portable computer designed for him by Intel to speak and give lectures.

One recent public lecture, transcribed on his website, shows the style that has made him a famous communicator.

"When I gave a lecture in Japan, I was asked not to mention the possible recollapse of the Universe, because it might affect the stock market," he said.

"However, I can reassure anyone who is nervous about their investments that it is a bit early to sell: even if the Universe does come to an end, it won't be for at least twenty billion years.

"By that time, maybe the GATT trade agreement will have come into effect."

Dr John Gribbin, the co-author of a biography on Stephen Hawking, told the BBC that there was little doubt the scientist's condition had contributed to his success.

"He's quite clear that he has been able to benefit in a curious way from having no limitations on his thinking, which is what he does; that's what his work is all about - sitting and thinking.

"And really it's partly because he can't do anything else that he has been able to achieve so much in his chosen field."

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"As his conditioned worsened, his reputation grew"
Prof Sir Martin Rees
He's produced a sequence of remarkable insights
Dr John Gribbin, biographer
He came out of a brilliant group of physicists
See also:

19 Oct 01 | Newsmakers
Stephen Hawking: Star turn
17 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Scientists criticise Hawking 'hype'
16 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Colonise space or die, says Hawking
15 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Hawking's briefer history of time
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