Stephen Hawking launches Medal for Science Communication


16 December 2015

Professor Stephen Hawking has revealed a new award for artistic feats that communicate the world of science – whether it is a groundbreaking article or a picture. The event took place at The Royal Society, London, today, 16 December 2015

Stephen Hawking
Professor Stephen Hawking – Source / PA

Professor Stephen Hawking helped launch the new medal

Professor Stephen Hawking has revealed a new award for artistic feats that communicate the world of science – whether it is a groundbreaking article or a picture.

The physicist joined Professor Brian Cox, Dr Brian May, Dr Richard Dawkins and Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, on a panel to introduce the new medal, which will be awarded for the first time next year.

The Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication will be presented at the third Starmus festival, a project which brings together music and art with the world’s most influential figures in astronomy.

Creator Professor Garik Israelian, an astrophysicist at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, said “sometimes communicating science is as important as doing the science itself” and said his panel of speakers where an an “inspiration” to the next generation of scientists.

During the unveiling event at The Royal Society in London, Prof Hawking said:

“When I wrote A Brief Theory Of Everything, I was told nobody would want to read a hardback book about physics. Luckily for me that turned out not to be true. The people wanted to know, they wanted to understand. Science communicators put science right at the heart of daily life. Bringing science to the people brings the people to science. This matters to me, to you, to the world.”

Having received a number of awards and honours at the Royal Society, he added that he was “delighted” to be presenting rather than receiving one and said: “I am looking forward to presenting the award next year. I hope to see you all there.”

Dr May, best known for being one quarter of the band Queen, described his co-panellist as a “scientist, an artist and a rock star in every possible way”.

He helped establish the first Starmus festival in Tenerife in 2011 by combining his passion and expertise in music and astronomy, and said: “At first I thought the idea was madness, a dream. But I loved that dream and we made it come true.”

Mr Leonov, commander of the cosmonaut team that conducted the first human space walk, demonstrated how to combine art with science when he drew a portrait of Prof Hawking while hearing him speak at the first Starmus festival in 2011. The image is engraved on the front of the new Stephen Hawking medal.

At the event at the Royal Society in London, he presented Prof Hawking with a full album of more of his artistic work. Prof Hawking was also presented with another portrait of himself, created by a 12-year-old girl near Armenia after watching blockbuster film The Theory Of Everything, based on his life. She made it of 170m-year old fossils of lilies.

Prof Israelian said that having the panel of renowned scientists together was “incredible” and a “historical” occasion. He described them as “stars” of science and said the award would aim to encourage more young people to recognise them.

Dr Dawkins commented in particular on the role of social media in this and highlighted how live video links and Twitter helped generate national excitement over the launch of Major Tim Peak, first official British astronaut sent into space, to the International Space Station.

The event yesterday was particularly poignant for Mr Leonov.

The 81-year-old said that seeing how important it was to so many people reminded him of the day his trainer and colleague, Yuri Gagarin, launched the world’s first manned space flight in 1961 and “everyone went out into the street and hugged each other”.