A former student of Prof Stephen Hawking and a leading physicist Prof Fay Dowker is set to give the eulogy at his funeral.
Prof Dowker, who is currently profesor of theoretical physics at Imperial College London, shared a passion with spacetime with Prof Hawking.
She received her PhD under the supervision of Prof Hawking from Cambridge University in 1990.
Here below is the full eulogy to be given by Prof Dowker:
Stephen Hawking was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of the Royal Society, Companion of Honour and recipient of the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom.
These, and many many other prizes, awards and honours, indicate the scale and significance of Stephens achievements but they dont capture what I can only call the magic that occurred around him.
In the introduction to “A Brief History of Time”, Carl Sagan describes being at a meeting at the Royal Society in London in 1974, on the search for extraterrestrial life.
Sagan writes: “During the coffee break, I noticed that a much larger meeting was being held in an adjacent hall and out of curiosity I entered. I soon realised that I was witnessing an ancient rite, the investiture of new Fellows into the Royal Society, one of the most ancient scholarly organisations on the planet. In the front row a young man in a wheelchair was, very slowly, signing his name in a book that bore on its earliest pages the signature of Issac Newton. When at last he finished, there was a stirring ovation. Stephen Hawking was a legend even then.”
For the most famous science communicator of his day, Sagan, to stumble upon Stephens Royal Society admission, so he could write about it fourteen years later in the introduction to Stephens book, the most famous popular science book of all time, is an example of the sort of thing that happened around Stephen all the time.
Stephen was a cosmologist: he set his mind to understand nothing less than the whole universe. Stephens work has influenced a huge range of contemporary research programmes, from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory — LIGO — to quantum field theory and quantum gravity. The epic breadth of Stephens scientific work is bound together by one fundamental concept: spacetime. Stephen used Einsteins theory of spacetime and gravity to prove that in the past, there was a moment, the Big Bang, when that theory must break down. Stephen therefore taught us that to understand the origin of our Universe, we need a deeper understanding of spacetime, and he made major contributions in the pursuit of such a deeper theory of quantum cosmology.
Stephens most celebrated work is his discovery that black holes emit quantum, thermal radiation, named Hawking radiation after him. This brilliant, creative, transformative discovery means that black holes — objects made of pure spacetime — obey the same laws of thermodynamics that govern chemical reactions and steam engines. This unification of areas of physics that had previously been thought of as separate, is the mark of a great advance in science and contemplating Stephens work, brings a joyous sense of the subtlety of nature, and a vision of a deeper unity yet to come.
Stephen shared his work and his zest for the fundamental questions it addressed with wide audiences. He inspired people with the excitement and importance of pure scientific enquiry and was admired and revered for his devotion, as a scholar, to the pursuit of knowledge. This high regard was demonstrated wherever in the world he gave a public lecture: the auditorium was always packed, the atmosphere electric and the applause thunderous.
Stephen will also be remembered and honoured for taking action on social issues. He championed the human rights of disabled people. When speaking to a UNESCO conference on Information and Communication Technologies in 2014, he stated that all disabled people should have access to the technology they need to enable them to communicate, as he did. Stephen was a powerful advocate for the National Health Service. In August last year he spoke at a conference, at the Royal Society of Medicine, on the future of the NHS, weaving together the story of his life, family, science and his experience of the NHS, presenting these as bound inextricably together. Stephens powerful, moral and scientific arguments for a publicly provided, universal, comprehensive Health Service moved many in his audience that day to tears and have greatly strengthened the campaign to save what he called “Our Finest Public Service”.
Stephen was my teacher, mentor and friend. I, like many who knew and loved him, had come to think of him as immortal and our sorrow is tinged with a feeling of disbelief that he is no longer here. But his influence and legacy will live forever. Robert, Lucy, Tim, members of the Hawking family, friends and carers of Stephen: it has been said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”. Stephen, in his life, worked to make it so. We can also say, “The arc of the history of science is long but it bends towards unity”. Stephens place in that great history is eternal.