Page last updated at 20:01 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 21:01 UK

Hawking to get Medal of Freedom

Professor Stephen Hawking
Prof Hawking has been Lucasian Professor of Mathematics since 1979

Renowned Cambridge University physicist Stephen Hawking has been awarded the United States' highest civilian honour.

The Lucasian Professor of Mathematics is one of 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, a White House spokesman announced.

The medal recognises cultural, public and private achievements.

Prof Hawking said: "It is a great privilege to be awarded the medal, especially by President Obama, whom I admire deeply."

He added: "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."

Meritorious contribution

The medal recognises an individual's "especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours".

Prof Hawking has spent much of his life wheelchair-bound and almost completely paralysed after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 22.

Unable to speak, he communicates through a computer linked to an artificial voice operated using small hand movements.

He has been compared with Albert Einstein, and as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge is considered a worthy occupier of the post once held by Sir Isaac Newton.

He excels at putting difficult mathematical concepts into plain English, and his book, A Brief History of Time, broke publishing records and shot to the top of the bestseller lists.

Among the other recipients of the medal this year are former Irish president Mary Robinson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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