Stephen Hawking Fellowship awarded to Jony Ive

Lewis Thomas 28 September 2018

It is not enough to have ideas- they must be successfully communicated. This is the message put out by the Cambridge Union’s Stephen Hawking Fellowship, run in partnership with TPP on a five year sponsorship deal. It is a message strengthened by the award of this year’s Fellowship to Sir Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer and the driving force behind the aesthetics of the iPhone, iPad, iMac, and Apple Watch.

The fellowship, now in its second year, emerged out of a desire by the Union to draw attention to individuals who “fulfil the criteria of being distinguished in the STEM fields and of having made an historic or significant contribution to social discourse.” Its origins lie in a suggestion by Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1986 to 2016, that the Union ought to mark exceptional achievement through the awarding of Fellowships, much like some Think-Tanks and institutes in the US (for example, the Hoover Institute at Stanford).

This idea germinated for a while, and the opportunity to launch a Fellowship emerged following Stephen Hawking’s address to the Union in November 2017- as both an exceptional scientist and an exceptional communicator of scientific principles, Hawking was the natural choice both for the Fellowship’s name and its first holder. This year, Ive was selected from a shortlist judged by Lord Rees (Master of Trinity and former Astronomer Royal), Professor Patrick Maxwell (Regius Professor of Physics), and Professor Arthur Gibson (Professor at the Department for Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics). In a press release, the Union observed that Ive’s “undoubted technological expertise, coupled with his remarkable role in championing elegant and innovative design on a global stage have made Sir Jony uniquely qualified to receive this Fellowship.”

The Fellowship is held for a year, and the Holder will be required to address the Union Chamber during their tenure- while no set time for Ive’s speech has been announced, it is expected to be in Michaelmas. As an opportunity to hear from one of the most prominent figures currently working in product design and consumer technology, it promises to be an interesting event.
Suggested by a Supreme Court justice, endowed by a Nobel Prize winning physicist, sponsored by a software company, and held by a designer, the Stephen Hawking Fellowship showcases Cambridge’s commitment to recognising academic excellence and communicating that excellence to the wider world.

All being well, Ive’s lecture will strengthen that commitment.