The Royal Mint has released (12th March) new commemorative coins which are in remembrance of the late physicist Stephen Hawking, internationally renowned for his pioneering work on black holes. This work, which used a tentative unification of Einstein’s theory of general relativity with quantum mechanics, reported that black holes should not be completely black and instead emit radiation, meaning they evaporate and eventually disappear.
A black hole is a region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing, not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light, can escape from inside it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. Termed “Hawking radiation,” this was an unexpected but highly influential development. The fact that something can come out of black holes means that they are not truly black, as people originally thought. In fact, over enough time, Hawking radiation can lead to black holes eventually evaporating and disappearring.
Hawking’s discovery led physicists to the unavoidable conclusion that information is lost as a black hole forms and subsequently evaporates. This is the black hole information paradox, one of the greatest unsolved problems in theoretical physics. These theories and phenomena are explained in his most famous work, A Brief History of Time.
Born on 8th January 1942 in Oxford, England, Stephen William Hawking might have been born in his parent’s house in North London had it not been for the outbreak of the Second World War. At the age of eight, his family moved to St. Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London and at 11, Stephen was enrolled in the St. Albans School. In 1952, Stephen was accepted at University College, Oxford, his father’s alma mater.
In 1963, Hawking’s life would change significantly when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, a fatal, rapidly progressing affliction that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disease attacks the nerves that control movement so muscles no longer work. Hawking was initially given the prognosis of two years left to live, but, despite this great setback, he went on to Cambridge to become a brilliant researcher and professorial fellow at Gonville and Caius College. Hawking would eventually become wheelchair-bound and dependent on a computerised voice system for communication, which, over time became his trademark. His electronic voice became one of the most widely recognised and re-created sounds in the world.
From 1979 to 2009, Hawking held the post of Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, the very same chair held by Sir Isaac Newton in 1663. His many publications included The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G. F. R. Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W. Israel, and 300 Years of Gravitation, also with W. Israel. Among his popular books, Stephen Hawking published his best seller A Brief History of Time, along with Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, The Universe in a Nutshell, The Grand Design, and My Brief History.
During his long career, Professor Stephen Hawking received 13 honorary degrees, including being awarded a CBE (1982), Companion of Honour (1989), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2009). He was the recipient of many awards, medals, and prizes, most notably the Fundamental Physics Prize (2013), Copley Medal (2006), and the Wolf Foundation Prize (1988). He was a fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
On a lighter side, as his notoriety grew internationally, he sometimes appeared on a variety of talk shows. He would go on to host his own television series entitled Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design and Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking. Younger viewers would become familiar with the man who was considered the smartest person in the world when he appeared on the American TV series The Big Bang Theory, which chronicles the lives of a group of intelligent but awkward scientists, one, in particular, who idolises Stephen Hawking. Hawking’s personal story was so compelling that his life experiences were made into a feature-length movie in 2014. Entitled The Theory of Everything, the movie starred Eddie Redmayne, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor portraying the physicist.
Stephen was able to combine family life (being a father to three children and a grandfather to three grandchildren) with his research into theoretical physics, in addition to an extensive programme of travel and public lectures. Hawking died on the 14th March 2018, at the age of 76, having lived with MND for more than 50 years.
Following his cremation, a service of thanksgiving was held at Westminster Abbey on the 15th June 2018, after which his ashes were scattered in the Abbey’s nave, alongside the grave of Sir Isaac Newton and close to that of Charles Darwin. Inscribed on his memorial stone are the words “HERE LIES WHAT WAS MORTAL OF STEPHEN HAWKING 1942 – 2018,” along with his most famed equation. As he said in his own words in an interview for the BBC:
I think my greatest achievement will be my discovery that black holes are not entirely black.
The 50-pence coin is designed by Edwina Ellis, whose design is inspired by a lecture he gave in Chile in 2008. The reverse side cleverly depicts a black hole on the surface of the coin in a carefully aligned linear approach, giving the appearance that there is an actual chasm on the coin’s surface.
The obverse side includes the fifth effigy of HM Queen Elizabeth II, which was created by Royal Mint engraver Jody Clark and has been used on all British circulation coinage and many commemorative coins since 2015.
With the issue of this coin on the 12th March, Stephen Hawking is one of only three in an elite group of scientists to have been honoured on UK coinage, alongside the likes of Sir Isaac Newton in 2017 and Charles Darwin in 2009.
|50 pence||Cupro-nickel||8 g||27.3 mm||Brilliant Unc.||Unlimited|
|50 pence||.925 Silver||8 g||27.2 mm||Proof||5,500|
|50 pence||.925 Silver||16 g||27.3 mm||Proof||2,500|
|50 pence||.9167 Gold||156.2 g||27.3 mm||Proof||400|
Tim and Lucy Hawking, son and daughter of Stephen Hawking, were guests of the Royal Mint and took the opportunity to strike the first new coins of the series.
The Brilliant Uncirculated quality coin is presented in a colourful folder which includes images and background information about Stephen Hawking and information about the work he embarked upon during his life.
Both sterling silver versions are encapsulated and presented in a black branded custom case and are accompanied by a numbered certificate of authenticity. The gold examples are presented in custom polished wood cases and are accompanied by numbered certificates of authenticity as well. For additional information about these coins and others available from the Royal Mint, please visit their website.