Apparently Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the renowned British physicist, left behind a mystery. From a February 11, 2022 posting by Bill Young on tellyspotting.kera.org blog,
While the Cambridge [University of Cambridge] cosmologist devoted his life to the conundrums of the cosmos, he left behind a mystery of his own amid the eclectic contents of his former office centering around his treasured blackboard that famously became smothered with cartoons, doodles and equations at a superspace and supergravity conference he arranged four decades ago in 1980.
What all the blackboard graffiti and in-jokes [emphasis mine] mean, however, is taking some time to unravel and has all the makings of a mystery that, ultimately, might prove even too much for the minds of Endeavour Morse, DCI John Barnaby, Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes to solve.
The “Stephen Hawking at Work” exhibit is free and open to the public. Here’s more from a January 8, 2022 Science Museum press release,
Today [January 8, 2022], on what would have been Professor Stephen Hawking’s 80th birthday, the Science Museum Group has announced a new temporary display, Stephen Hawking at Work, which will explore Hawking’s remarkable life as a scientist, science communicator, and as a person who lived with motor neurone disease. Opening on Thursday 10 February at the Science Museum, the display will feature significant objects from Hawking’s office, the extraordinary contents of which were acquired for the nation by the Science Museum Group in May 2021 through the UK Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme. These important items will provide insights into a scientist who challenged perceptions of theoretical physics with a playful, imaginative and social approach to work.
In Stephen Hawking at Work,visitors can see Hawking’s rare PhD thesis, his spectacles adapted to aid communication and even an invitation to the time travellers’ party Hawking hosted. Visitors across the country will be able to study these fascinating items up close for the first time as the display embarks on a tour of the Science Museum Group’s museums, opening next at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester later this summer. The display is expected to tour the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, during 2023 and 2024. Global audiences will be able to explore hundreds of remarkable items from Hawking’s working life as this significant acquisition is catalogued, photographed and published to the Science Museum Group’s popular online collection in 2022.
Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries said: ‘I am thrilled the Science Museum Group, in its exciting new display, will be honouring the birthday of one of the greatest British scientists ever to have lived.
Our Acceptance in Lieu Scheme exists exactly so that works of national importance can be saved for the nation, and it’s fantastic that these objects will now go on public display across the country to inspire a new generation of thinkers and scientists.’
As a scientist, Hawking took a playful approach to collaboration. This is exemplified through one of Hawking’s most treasured possessions: a doodle-covered blackboard from the Superspace and Supergravity conference in 1980. Delegates covered the blackboard in equations, cartoons and jokes about each other. Hawking had this souvenir framed and hung in his office and now, forty years later, the Science Museum’s conservators have stabilised the chalk dust so it can continue to be enjoyed by those who see it.
Hawking’s sense of humour is further illustrated by one of his favourite pastimes, making bets with his peers on scientific debates. Perhaps the most famous is the Black Hole Information Paradox bet he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill and visitors can see the wager Hawking signed with his thumbprint.
The display will also contain one of only five known copies of Hawking’s PhD thesis. This significant thesis examined possible solutions to Einstein’s equations of general relativity to demonstrate that the universe must have originated in a singularity, a single point of infinite density. The thesis also provides an early example of Hawking’s clear writing style when dealing with complex ideas – a style which ultimately enabled him to become a compelling communicator of science.
Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘Stephen Hawking had a lifelong relationship with the Science Museum—from visiting as a child to receiving a museum Fellowship for his contributions to science—so I’m thrilled we are placing objects from his office, a hub of scientific debate and discovery, on display for the first time. These remarkable items will go on to tour the Science Museum Group, enabling visitors across the country to be inspired by and gain insights into one of the greatest scientists of our age.’
From his bestselling books to his unmissable cameos in popular television shows, Hawking used a huge breadth of channels to inspire and advocate for making complex scientific theories accessible to the wider public. On display in Stephen Hawking at Work will be a photograph from the set of Hawking’s guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode, Hawking—the only person to play themselves in the Star Trek universe—joins a game of poker as a hologram with Lt Commander Data (Brent Spiner), Isaac Newton (John Neville) and Albert Einstein (Jim Norton).
Hawking believed in the importance of debate and discussing topics with others who might disagree. His readiness to engage in discussions and understand the viewpoints of others is symbolised by the insignia given to him in 1986 on becoming a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences [a scientific academy of Vatican City], which will also be on display. The medal is a reminder of Hawking’s ability to inspire communities far beyond the world of theoretical physics.
Stephen Hawking at Work also explores Hawking’s experience of motor neurone disease. Initially given a two-year prognosis when diagnosed, Hawking lived with the disease for more than five decades. From the late 1960s he used a wheelchair and from 1986 Hawking used a voice synthesiser after an emergency tracheotomy meant he could no longer speak. On display will be the latest generation of wheelchair used by Hawking: the Permobil F3 model. Jonathan Wood, Hawking’s graduate assistant, noted it was far more than just a wheelchair – it was also his voice, how he communicated his ideas to the world, his ventilation support and his mobile office.
Hawking’s innovative communication systems demonstrate how technology was adapted to accommodate changing needs over the course of his life. Visitors will see Hawking’s earliest voice synthesiser, adapted to hang on the back of his wheelchair and his spectacles which had an analogue cheek sensor to control his voice software.
If you are unable to get to any of the locations where the exhibit will be available, the Science Museum has some of the objects displayed online.