Cambridge University library acquire 10,000-page archive of papers belonging to Stephen Hawking

The archive will join the papers of Newton and Darwin in the university library

Cambridge’s University Library has acquired a 10,000-page archive of scientific and personal papers that belonged to late physicist and Cambridge academic Stephen Hawking.

The archive, which university librarian Jessica Gardner labels as giving “extraordinary insight” into Hawking’s scientific life, will soon be freely available to the public and, according to the university’s announcement on Twitter, will also be made available to scientists who are hoping to continue his “ground-breaking” work.

Additionally, London’s Science Museum has acquired the entire contents of Hawking’s office at Cambridge, and selected highlights will go on display next year.

The collection of Hawking’s scientific and personal papers will join the papers of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin at Cambridge’s University Library. Among this archive of Hawking’s papers is the first draft of his best-selling book A Brief History of Time, as well as his correspondence with leading scientists.

Jessica Gardner, the university librarian, is excited for the library to have this collection of his papers, which “allows us to step inside Stephen’s mind and to travel with him round the cosmos to, as he said, ‘better understand our place in the universe.'”

She added: “This vast archive gives extraordinary insight into the evolution of Stephen’s scientific life, from childhood to research student, from disability activist to ground breaking, world-renowned scientist.”

One of his children, Lucy Hawking, was pleased that his work was being preserved for the public: “My father would be so pleased, and I think maybe at the same time just a tiny bit overwhelmed, that he was going to form part of the […] history of science, that he was going to be alongside the great scientists, the people whose work he really admired.”

His son, Tim, echoed his sister’s sentiments, saying his father would be “really pleased”: “It was really important during his lifetime that science be opened up to the widest possible number of people and be democratised and not be the preserve of the elite few.”

Professor Paul Shellard, who worked with Hawking at the University of Cambridge, said the physicist’s collection of papers had a profound influence on our understanding of space-time and the Universe: “It’s a wonderful thing that historians of science can get an idea of how Stephen thought about these problems.

“He saw further than others and I hope that [his] intuition and way of thinking will come through in the archive and be remembered in perpetuity.”

The Science Museum Group has also acquired the entire contents of Hawking’s office at Cambridge, including his communications equipment, memorabilia, and bets he made on scientific debates and office furniture. These items will be preserved as part of the Group’s collection.

His office will be reconstructed in London’s Science Museum next year, and selected highlights will go on display. Museum officials are also hoping to create a touring exhibition in the UK before setting up a permanent display in London.

Stephen Hawking studied for his PhD at Cambridge and was a part of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge from 2002 to 2018. He was the university’s Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, which was the same post that Isaac Newton held from 1669 to 1702.

At 22, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and told he only had a few years to live. He survived for many years longer and died in 2018 at 76 years old.

Feature image credit: John Cairns, Creative Commons License, and Steve Cadman, Creative Commons License