Stephen Hawking is staying put, Cambridge says

The University of Cambridge has poured cold water on reports its most famous physicist might be coming to Canada to work, saying Wednesday Stephen Hawking "has no plans" to leave.

The University of Cambridge has poured cold water on reports its most famous physicist might be coming to Canada to work, saying Wednesday Stephen Hawking "has no plans" to leave.

A report in the Daily Telegraph in the U.K. said Hawking was contemplating joining his colleague Neil Turok at Waterloo, Ont.'s Perimeter Institute. The South African-born cosmologist Turok, 49, is leaving Cambridge to take over the role of executive director at the institute, which was founded in 2000 by Research in Motion co-founder Mike Lazaridis and is devoted to the study of theoretical physics.

Cambridge's statement called the report "unfounded speculation."

But Turok, who will start a five-year term at Perimeter on Oct. 1, said when he was hired that his colleague Hawking had an open invitation to join Perimeter for a few months. Hawking is expected to visit the institute in the fall.

Perimeter spokesman John Matlock said Wednesday the report of Hawking's possible arrival has been exaggerated. Last month Matlock said there have been discussions with Hawking about visiting the institute for a few months but nothing had been decided.

Turok left Cambridge in part because of his frustration over government funding, particularly his inability to secure a commitment to expand Cambridge's Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and rename it after Hawking, who has also expressed his displeasure over funding cuts to research.

Cambridge said in its statement that Hawking was looking forward to continuing to work at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology.

"Stephen's hope is that this will soon be established as the world's leading centre for research in theoretical cosmology and indeed that, in due course, will expand into a large permanent institute for research into fundamental physics," the university said.

'A move isn't imminent,' says assistant

Hawking's graduate assistant Sam Blackburn had told the Telegraph on Tuesday, "I think Professor Hawking is mulling it over but a move isn't imminent.

"He would not make plans to permanently move to a place he hasn't visited yet, but he is open to it," he said.

Turok told the Telegraph that Hawking plans to visit in 2009 and "we would certainly welcome him coming for longer."

Part of Perimeter's attractiveness is its access to funding: last month Lazaridis donated an additional $50 million to the institute, bringing his total contribution to the centre for theoretical physics to $150 million.

Hawking, best known for his book A Brief History of Time, is one of the few physicists in the world who has achieved celebrity status outside his field, having made guest appearances on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Simpsons. The scientist, who uses a wheelchair, has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Hawking is currently the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a prestigious title once held by Sir Isaac Newton and computer pioneer Charles Babbage.

With files from the Canadian Press