Page 3 Profile: Stephen Hawking, physicist


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The Independent Online

Another scientific discovery?

Not quite. Britain's most famous living theoretical physicist has just been awarded a £1.8m prize, but it's for a lifetime's incredible work. The huge award honours his discovery that black holes can emit radiation, and that once a black hole forms, it starts losing mass. Prof Hawking described these theories in layman's terms (or as close to layman's terms as is possible) in his 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time.

How will he spend his winnings?

Prof Hawking said he would help his daughter take care of her autistic son, and "maybe buy a holiday home, not that I take many holidays because I enjoy my work in theoretical physics". Though grateful to win, the 70-year-old added: "No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before. Nevertheless prizes like these play an important role in giving public recognition for achievement in physics. They increase the stature of physics and interest in it."

For £1.8m I'd happily have a go at quantum physics...

The prizes (Hawking's "Special Fundamental Physics Prize" was just one of several) are the most lucrative science awards in the world. The Nobel Prize in Physics, by comparison, is worth £700,000. These new awards were set up by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who amassed a fortune of $1bn through investments in Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Groupon.

Who were the other winners?

A further £1.8m was given to a team of scientists attached to Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research based in Geneva. They were involved in tracking down the Higgs boson - or "God Particle". The particle could be responsible for mass, and binding the universe together. Among this group of seven was Professor Tejinder Virdee, from Imperial College London . He said: "The prize not only celebrates fundamental science but also recognises the audacious undertaking of the many scientists, engineers and technicians from around the world who, over many years, came together to build a powerful detector, one that will still have the potential to produce remarkable physics for years to come."