Stephen Hawking meets Nelson Mandela

Physics professor in South Africa to launch African maths and science initiative

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Professor Hawking and Mr Mandela discuss the Next Einstein initiative

Photo: Alet van Huyssteen

Professor Hawking is in South Africa to launch the Next Einstein initiative, to discover and nurture maths and science talent all over Africa. The initiative builds on the success of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, AIMS, a pan-African centre for postgraduate training and research, based in Muizenberg, Cape Town. AIMS has so far graduated 160 young scientists from 30 African countries and an additional 53 students, including 20 women, are currently completing the programme.

The Next Einstein plan is to create many AIMS centres, all over Africa. The second AIMS centre opens in Abuja, Nigeria, in July and additional centres are planned in Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Botswana, Rwanda and Sudan.

Accompanying Professor Hawking were David Block, Professor in the School of Computational and Applied Mathematics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Pik Botha, who was a Cabinet Minister in the government led by Mr Mandela, and Neil Turok, founder of AIMS and Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge.

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From left to right: Peter Breadman, Neil Turok, Stephen Hawking, Nelson Mandela, Pik Botha and Professor David Block

Photo: Alet van Huyssteen

Upon meeting Mr Mandela, Professor Hawking said, “I am very pleased to meet you. I admire how you managed to find a peaceful solution to a situation that seemed doomed to disaster. It was one of the great achievements of the 20th century. If only the Israelis and the Palestinians could do the same.”

Mr Mandela responded by welcoming Professor Hawking and the other visitors, expressing a great interest in AIMS and a desire to visit the centre. The meeting was hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in Houghton, Johannesburg. At the end of the meeting, Professor Hawking said, “It was wonderful to meet you.”

Professor Hawking, a UK physicist who wrote the best-selling book A Brief History of Time, leaves tonight for Cape Town to participate in a workshop on cosmology at the new National Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stellenbosch. He returns to Cambridge over the weekend.