Professor Stephen Hawking is to receive the world’s oldest award for scientific achievement, the Royal Society’s prestigious Copley medal, for his outstanding contribution to theoretical physics and theoretical cosmology it was announced today.

In recognition of Stephen Hawking’s work in cosmology, British born astronaut Piers Sellers carried the medal, due to be presented to Hawking later this year, with him on the recent Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station.

First awarded by the Royal Society in 1731, the Copley medal pre-dates the Nobel Prize by 170 years. It is awarded for outstanding achievements in scientific research and during its 275 year history, has been awarded to such scientific luminaries as Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein and Louis Pasteur.

Professor Hawking said: “This is a very distinguished medal. It was awarded to Darwin, Einstein and Crick. I am honoured to be in their company."

British astronaut, Piers Sellers said: “Stephen Hawking is a definitive hero to all of us involved in exploring the Cosmos. His contribution to science is unique and he serves as a continuous inspiration to every thinking person. It was an honour for the crew of the STS-121 mission to fly his medal into space. We think that this is particularly appropriate as Stephen has dedicated his life to thinking about the larger Universe.”

The crew of STS-121 carried the Copley medal into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in July, 2006. The astronauts kept the medal with them in the Shuttle middeck throughout the mission, including the nine days they were docked with the International Space Station.

Stephen Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. His work has been essential in understanding and classifying black holes. He has also made an exceptional contribution to the popularisation of his subject, authoring four popular-science books including “A Brief History of Time” and “The Universe in a Nutshell”.

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, said: “Stephen Hawking has contributed as much as anyone since Einstein to our understanding of gravity. This medal is a fitting recognition of an astonishing research career spanning more than 40 years.

“I wish to express my gratitude to Piers Sellers and the crew of the STS-121 for taking the medal with them their mission and marking the 275th anniversary of this eminent scientific award.”

The medal will be awarded to Professor Hawking on 30 November at the Society’s annual Anniversary Day, commemorating the foundation of the Society in 1660.

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