Stephen Hawking’s ashes are to be interred alongside the likes of Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton at Westminster Abbey in London, it has been announced.
The Abbey is the final resting place of many scientific luminaries, but Hawking will be the first well-known public person for nearly 30 years, and the first scientist for 80 years, to receive the honor.
Professor Hawking passed away on March 14, aged 76, having spent over 50 years refusing to let motor neurone disease prevent him from becoming the most famous science communicator in the world, engaging the wider public in mind-boggling science, or carrying out his own ground-breaking scientific study.
He joins an impressive list of fellow great minds. The last scientist to have been interred at the Abbey was physicist Joseph John Thomson in 1940. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906.
Three years before that pioneering physicist Sir Ernest Rutherford, the “father of nuclear physics”, received the same honor. Rutherford famously was the first to split the atom and received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908.
The Abbey’s most famous residents, in scientific circles at least – I’m sure Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens would have something to say otherwise – are of course Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.
Newton, who once held the title of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at his alma mater Cambridge, just like Professor Hawking, was buried in the Abbey in 1727. Darwin was buried next to him in 1882.
"It is entirely fitting that the remains of Professor Stephen Hawking are to be buried in the Abbey, near those of distinguished fellow scientists,” the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said.
“We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”
Hawking was, of course, famously an atheist. “God is the name people give to the reason we are here,” he once told Time magazine. “But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship.”
But, as we know, Hawking had a wicked sense of humor, so maybe he'll enjoy it.
He also declared back in 2002 that he wanted his most famous equation, describing the entropy of a black hole, engraved on his tombstone (a nod to Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann whose tombstone bears the inscription of his own entropy formula).
We will have to wait to see if that happens though. Hawking will be interred at the Abbey following a thanksgiving service to be given later in the year, after a private funeral with friends and family later this month.