Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, was awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on August 12. Hawking was among 16 recipients of the award.
America's highest civilian honor, the medal recipients were chosen by Obama because of their remarkable achievements as "agents of change." The president added, "Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way."
Hawking has been in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge since 1973, and has held his current chair, a post previously held by Isaac Newton, since 1979. His pioneering research in theoretical physics and general relativity has been honored with many awards, prizes and medals. The recipient of twelve honorary degrees, Hawking was awarded the CBE in 1982 and was named a Companion of Honour in 1989. He is a fellow of The Royal Society and a member of the U.S. Academy of Sciences.
Hawking was named to the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors in 2006. Sponsors co-chair Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State University, said that Hawking, his dear friend, has a relentless dedication to his work and a rare ability to inspire everyday citizens to explore science.
"Stephen embodies the purpose of this highest honor, as he constantly strives to improve the world we live in by spreading his passion for science and demonstrating that it is possible for the human spirit to overcome even the most severe handicaps," said Krauss. "His level of scientific accomplishment in the face of great difficulties, combined with his enthusiasm for unraveling the secrets of nature should be an inspiration to all of us."
President Obama presented the awards at a ceremony in Washington on Wednesday, August 12. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially outstanding contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Along with numerous academic publications, Hawking is the author of three popular science books, including A Brief History of Time, which remained a bestseller for a record 237 weeks and continues to enlighten people everywhere.