January 9, 2012
Hawking Unable To Attend 70th Birthday Celebration
A special conference held to honor Stephen Hawking's 70th birthday went on without the guest of honor Sunday, as the professor and physicist was forced to cancel his appearance after being hospitalized for an unidentified infection last week.
According to the Associated Press (AP), University of Cambridge Vice Chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz told those in attendance, "Unfortunately, his recovery has not been fast enough for him to be able to be here“¦ If you're listening Stephen, happy birthday from all of us here today."
In his absence, the audience -- which included his son Timothy, Nobel laureate Prof Saul Perlmutter, Sir Richard Branson, and Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal -- listened to a pre-recorded version of the lecture, entitled "A Brief History of Mine," Telegraph Science Correspondent Nick Collins said.
"The lecture was frequently punctuated with laughter as the professor lived up to his reputation for dry humor and witty one-liners," Collins reported. "In a moving address, Prof. Hawking described how his diagnosis with motor neuron disease at 21 had helped transform him from a gifted but lazy student into one of the world's most eminent academics."
Hawking's speech also reportedly described how he did not learn to read until he was eight years old; how he was a middle-of-the-pack student as a youngster despite having earned the nickname of "Einstein" in school; and that he initially worked for just one hour each day while studying at Oxford University before becoming motivated by learning of his illness at the age of 21.
"At first I became depressed. I seemed to be getting worse pretty rapidly. There didn't seem any point working on my PhD because I didn't know if I would live long enough to finish it," he said. "But then the condition developed more slowly and I began to make progress in my work. After my expectations had been reduced to zero, every new day became a bonus and I began to appreciate everything I did have."
On Saturday, BBC News Health Reporter Michelle Roberts called him "an incredible man" for his many achievements, including being awarded a dozen honorary degrees, a CBE, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also called him "a medical marvel" for making it to age 70 while battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease which kills 95% of those diagnosed with it within a decade.
"Most die within a few years of diagnosis," she said. "The fact that Prof Hawking has lived for nearly half a century with a condition that progressively attacks the nerves serving the muscles of the body has been described as remarkable."
Hawking, an expert on black holes, is recognized as one of the great minds of this era, and the AP calls him "one of the leading lights in theoretical astrophysics." His first book, "A Brief History of Time," has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, and he is also a former Lucasian professor of mathematics and theoretical physics at Cambridge.
Speaking before the lecture, Branson reportedly called Hawking "somebody the world admires enormously and it is wonderful to be celebrating his 70th birthday, which in itself is remarkable."
"He should have won the Nobel Prize many times, he is somebody who has discovered many things in his lifetime and he has managed to do that through extreme disability," Branson said, adding, according to Collins, that he hoped to help Hawking fulfill a lifelong dream in the near future by taking him into space onboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft.
Late last week, Hawking's assistant reported that the professor was in danger of losing his iconic computerized voice because of gradual muscle control loss in his cheek.
Hawking has used a voice synthesizer to communicate ever since he lost his speech in 1985 due to tracheotomy after suffering a bout of pneumonia, but personal assistant Judith Croasdell told reporters that he is now losing the use of the nerves in his cheeks that enable him to speak with the help of a computer and an infrared sensor located in his mouth.
Image Caption: U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Stephen Hawking in the Blue Room of the White House before a ceremony presenting him and fifteen others the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 12 August 2009. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. Credit: White House
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