The college goofball; the excitable young researcher; the family man. It's a side of Stephen Hawking relatively few people get to see.
A new exhibition opening Friday at London's Science Museum hopes to show the human side of the celebrity scientist, drawing on artifacts from Hawking's study, letters from his archives, and pictures from his family collection to paint a more intimate portrait of the world's best-known living theoretical physicist.
"There's quite a stereotyped image that we have of Hawking in a wheelchair in front of a field of stars, saying something profound about the universe," Alison Boyle, the museum's curator of astronomy, said Thursday before the exhibit's launch. "There's much more to him than that."
Hawking, 70, is renowned for his pioneering work on black holes and his best-selling series of popular books which have helped guide millions of non-academics through the esoteric outer reaches of cosmology, quantum theory and theoretical astrophysics.
His career has been all the more remarkable because he has Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable degenerative disorder that has left him almost completely paralyzed and dependent on his distinctively robotic voice synthesizer to communicate.
Many of the pictures projected onto the wall of the Science Museum's one-room exhibit harkened back to a time before the scientist became synonymous with his wheelchair and his computer-generated monotone.
Among the photos are a young, intense-looking Stephen leaning against his bicycle on a snowy road and a slightly older, undergraduate Hawking hamming it up for the camera at the University of Oxford. Others show Hawking with his children, smiling as they grab at his computer or race around the yard.
Then there are research notes in Hawking's distinctive scrawl, handwritten diagrams outlining one of his most famous theorems, and a 1974 missive to the editor of Nature outlining the discovery.
"I realize it is slightly long," Hawking says of his submission, "but the result reported is rather sensational."
The Science Museum's exhibit is modest and some of the material _ old copies of Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" and various awards taken from his study _ may be of limited interest. But some of the artifacts _ including a seldom-seen 1978 portrait of the scientist by famous British painter David Hockney and a Simpsons-style Hawking action figure _ will thrill fans of what Boyle called "our most beloved scientist."
Entrance to the museum is free. The Hawking exhibit runs until April 9.
Science Museum: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael