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Recording Stephen Hawking’s Office

Go behind the scenes and discover more about our work to record Stephen Hawking's office.

Visitors to the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford can now enjoy a new display, Stephen Hawking at Work, which explores the working life of the world-renowned theoretical physicist and includes notable items from Professor Hawking’s office at the University of Cambridge, including a rare copy of his PhD thesis, his most recent wheelchair and his spectacles which were specially adapted to aid communication.

Visitors explore the Stephen Hawking at Work display at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.
Visitors explore the Stephen Hawking at Work display at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

However, this display gives just a glimpse of the more than 800 objects from Hawking’s office which have now been studied, moved, conserved, photographed and published on the Science Museum Group’s popular online collection.

Behind the scenes of photography of Stephen Hawking's wheelchair.
Behind the scenes of photography of Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair.

Our team are also developing another method for online audiences to explore Hawking’s office. In 2021 we worked with ScanLAB Projects to capture a digital record of Hawking’s office and its contents, using high resolution photography and infrared lasers (in a process known as LiDAR). Together with the individual items from the office, this digital scan will bring to life the workspace of one of the world’s most well-known scientists.

A digital scan of Stephen Hawking's office.
Digital scan of Professor Stephen Hawking’s office, produced by ScanLAB Projects.

LiDAR uses infrared lasers to record thousands of measurements within the office, while the colours in the digital scan are captured using digital cameras (DSLRs) in a process called photogrammetry. This process required two cameras and photographers, with the room divided into two zones to prevent any shadowing.

To ensure accurate measurements and colours could be captured, it was important to have the right level of lighting within the room. To create this, external lighting balloons were inflated and secured in place outside the office windows. Around 6 scans were taken in total, each taking 15 minutes.

Inflated lighting balloons secured in place outside Hawking's office windows
Inflated lighting balloons secured in place outside Hawking’s office windows

We are now working with ScanLAB Projects to produce videos, walkthroughs, and panoramic views of the office which will help audiences explore the office for themselves and find out more about the remarkable items it contained.

Soon you will be able to move from the office kitchen, above which some of Hawking’s books were kept, to the windowsills which were adorned with many of the awards Hawking received throughout his life.

Blackboard covered with Graffiti
Hawking kept this blackboard as a treasured souvenir of an international conference he organised in Cambridge. Guests at the event covered the blackboard in equations, cartoons and jokes about each other, and creatures named after mathematical tools.

This digital content is being developed by our Curator of Physics with support from one of our trainee assistant digital curators. The traineeship programme for assistant digital curators has been introduced as time-limited positive action as part of our strategy to diversify our workforce and address underrepresentation, identified through our workforce data, of people from ethnic minority backgrounds in curatorial careers. The trainees are learning and developing new curatorial skills while sharing their own digital talents and experiences.

You can view an earlier walkthrough we produced with ScanLAB projects in this recreation of the Science Museum’s former Shipping gallery.

Following its run at the National Science and Media Museum, Stephen Hawking at Work will continue its tour of the Science Museum Group, opening next at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester later in 2023.

The extraordinary objects in Hawking’s office can also be explored through these online articles.