Student, Collaborator And Friend Of Stephen Hawking Shares His Story At Utah State University

May 2, 2018

Malcolm Perry (Left) was a student, collaborator and friend of Stephen Hawking.
Credit blogs.scientificamerican.com

Scientist Stephen Hawking was known for his groundbreaking work with black holes and relativity. He passed away March 14, 2018, at the age of 76, but his legacy as a pioneer and a friend lives on. UPR’s Bronson Teichert spoke with Malcolm Perry, a professor at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and close friend of Stephen Hawking.

Teichert: Professor Perry thank you for joining me today. Tell me how did you meet Stephen Hawking?

Perry: I had just done a one-year post-graduate degree in mathematics at Cambridge and he just simply sent for me at the end of that. And said, ‘Would you like to work with me on relativity?’ Then he said, ‘Would you like to work on cosmology or black holes?’ So I said black holes.

Teichert: It took you a long time to learn how to communicate with him but you must have shown a promising future.

Perry: I wasn’t so much a student anymore, I could collaborate with him. We wrote one paper during that period. Then I went off to Princeton so I was out of his orbit for a bit.

Teichert: So you spent eight years at Princeton, before coming back to Cambridge. During that time Hawking completely lost his voice?

Perry: And then it was replaced by this computer voice that we all know and love. Then understanding him was really easy.

Teichert: The phases of your relationship went from student to collaborator and...

Perry: And then friend. And sort of collaborator at the same time. I don’t think that all Ph.D. students have that same experience. I think most simply, there is a supervisor and that’s it. Gone.

Teichert: During your relationship and your time working with Stephen Hawking, you pointed out some of those interesting things about his personality, like his eating habits.

Perry: He was something of a gourmet. He liked food. He was willing to go to restaurants and eat out on any opportunity and it was simply a good excuse to have a good time. He certainly enjoyed eating with gusto. As you saw the example was steak, so steak was for breakfast. Other things that were his favorites, things like raspberries, crème brûlée was a favorite.

Teichert: What was it like spending time with Hawking?

Perry: If you were with him, things would always happen. You could be certain it would be fun. Talking with him would be a bit difficult. You’d say something and you would have to wait for a reply to be composed and the computer and then spelled out. But that didn’t really seem to be much of a problem.

Teichert: What was your favorite personal memory with Stephen Hawking and being his friend?

Perry: Oh, that’s tricky. I don’t know that there’s a favorite personal memory. I think that there is a memory was actually the last time I talked to him. I guess it was March the 7 [2018], I phoned him up and told him that this was where we had got to. So this was not much of a conversation. It was on speaker phone. I described where we had got to. His response was, ‘Yes.’ I’m told by the nurse next to him that he smiled. As far as I can tell, that’s about the last thing he ever said. It’s not really a favorite memory but it’s one that will stick in my mind forever.

Teichert: He passed away shortly after that and I remember he was all over the news, but will he be remembered after that?

Perry: In the scientific community his work will be recognized for a very, very long time. I would imagine that in a thousand years’ time his name will still be known.

Teichert: Professor Perry I thank you again, I really appreciate your time and sitting down and talking with me about your experiences and the legacy of Stephen Hawking. Thank you.

Perry: Thank you.