Centre for Theoretical Cosmology News

The legacy of Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

The 8th January 2022 will mark what would have been the eightieth birthday of Stephen Hawking, one of the truly great figures of twentieth century theoretical physics and cosmology, and someone who overcame enormous challenges to inspire millions of people around the world. After decades of academic leadership in Cambridge, he founded the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in 2007 in order to, in his words, “develop theories of the Universe that are both mathematically consistent and observationally testable.” We honour Professor Hawking’s memory on his 80th birthday and we will endeavour to encourage the next generation to continue his bold intellectual legacy.

Professor Hawking accomplished a staggering amount throughout his career and changed our understanding of the cosmos through his pioneering discoveries in the fields of astronomy, cosmology and theoretical physics. He broke new ground on the basic laws which govern the universe, including the revelation that black holes have a temperature and produce radiation, now known as Hawking radiation. He was extremely passionate about communicating science, especially to young people, and sought to explain many of his complex scientific ideas through popular books including his best seller A Brief History of Time.

He achieved all of this despite living with motor neurone disease for decades. Diagnosed while a student, the condition eventually led him to being confined to a wheelchair and to communicating via his instantly recognisable synthesized voice. His determination, grit and perseverance in the face of adversity made him a champion to many, and an example to us all.

To ensure the advancement of our understanding of the universe, and enable future generations of scientists to build on Stephen’s profound discoveries as well as recent major developments in cosmology and theoretical physics, the CTC and the University of Cambridge have developed a programme to establish Professor Hawking’s vision and legacy by creating a world-leading centre of excellence in gravitation and cosmology. It also aims to galvanise the interest of young people and support them in their education and careers in mathematics and physics, while communicating exciting new developments to the general public.

The first part of the programme, the Stephen Hawking Professorship, has already been achieved thanks to a generous endowment from the Avery-Tsui Foundation. The search is now under way to find a theorist of the highest international standing to lead research in gravitation and cosmology. The programme will also establish a Hawking Lectureship based at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, postdoctoral Hawking Fellowships, two to be hosted by the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, and several Hawking Scholars, that is, prize PhD studentships in theoretical physics.

The programme will also reflect Professor Hawking’s interest in the public communication of science, with a programme of public outreach to schools and institutions. We also plan to establish an Annual Hawking Symposium to showcase the best of Cambridge’s research in relevant fields through a series of lectures and engagement activities, including those aimed at non-specialist and young audiences. Our aspiration is that the Symposium will be known as one of the highlights in the University’s calendar, representing a high-profile and exciting opportunity to continue Professor Hawking’s commitment to the communication of science.

1999 letter to "Stephen Hawkins" (sic) from First Lady Hillary Clinton (now held in the Stephen Hawking Archive at Cambridge University Library)

Our ultimate vision is to expand the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology into a larger, permanent institute for advanced theoretical research in gravitation and cosmology, called the Stephen Hawking Institute.

Among exciting recent developments to continue this legacy, Cambridge University Library acquired Stephen Hawking’s personal archive in 2021. This contains around 10,000 pages of letters, scientific papers, correspondence on disabled rights, and scripts of his media appearances. This important acquisition was generously facilitated by the Hawking Family and the Stephen Hawking Foundation. We are very grateful for their support.

“I want to share my excitement and enthusiasm about this quest. So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Stephen Hawking

More information about the Stephen Hawking Programme can be found here: