Stephen Hawking leaves "Newton's chair" at Cambridge

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British physicist Stephen Hawking will step down from one of the most famous academic posts in the world this week.

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking addresses a public meeting in Cape Town, May 11, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

The “Brief History of Time” author is scheduled to leave Cambridge University’s Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics, a position that has been held by only 17 men including the father of physics Isaac Newton.

Holders of the post traditionally step down at the age of 67, which Hawking reached in January.

Hawking has held the post at Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) since 1979, where he supervises PhD students. It is often referred to as a “chair.”

He will take up a new role as Director of Research in the DAMTP, where he will continue to lead efforts in cosmology and gravitation.

He also remains the principal investigator for the COSMOS National Cosmology Supercomputer and will play an active role in the Center for Theoretical Cosmology, which aims to advance understanding of the universe, the university said.

Hawking has a neuro muscular dystrophy that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralyzed.

He said in an emailed statement: “This is an exciting time in cosmology with new observational results coming in thick and fast and large-scale terrestrial and satellite experiments underway.”

“With luck, we will soon be able to answer some of the ultimate questions about the Universe and our existence.”

The “Professorship of Mathematick” was deeded in December 1663 at Cambridge University as a result of a gift from Henry Lucas, Member of Parliament for the university.

The university has not yet named Hawking’s successor.

Reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Steve Addison