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Stephen Hawking - Master of the Wheelchair 1

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                <p><u><strong>Stephen Hawking - Master of the
Wheelchair</strong></u></p>
<p>Stephen William Hawking, 69 year-old English theoretical physicist and
cosmologist whose scientific books and public appearances have made him
an academic celebrity. (Cosmology - the astrophysical study of the
structure and constituent dynamics of the universe.) In addition, he
received the 2009 award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest
civilian award in the United States. He was the Lucasian Professor of
Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years and is now
Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the
Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the
University of Cambridge.</p>
<p>He is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and
quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also
achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his
own theories and cosmology, in general. These include the runaway best-
seller, <strong><em>A Brief History of Time</em></strong>, which stayed
on the British <strong><em>Sunday Times</em></strong> best- sellers-list
for a record-breaking 237 weeks. All this in spite of possessing a motor
neuron-disease that is related to <strong>A</strong>myotrophic-
<strong>L</strong>ateral-<strong>S</strong>clerosis (ALS – "Lou
Gehrig's disease"), a condition that has progressed over the years and
has left him almost completely paralyzed.</p>
<p>Hawking was always interested in science. Inspired by his mathematics
teacher, he originally wanted to study the subject at the university.
However, his father wanted him to apply to the University College,
Oxford, where his father had attended. As University College did not have
a mathematics-fellow at that time, it would not accept applications from
students who wished to study that discipline. He, therefore, studied
natural sciences, in which he won a scholarship, instead. Once at
University College, Hawking specialized in physics. His interests during
this time were in thermodynamics, relativity and quantum mechanics.</p>
<p>Almost as soon as he arrived at Cambridge, he started developing
symptoms of ALS would cost him almost all neuromuscular control. During
his first two years at Cambridge, he did not distinguish himself, but
after the disease had stabilized and with the help of his doctoral tutor,
he returned to working on his Ph.D.</p>
<p>His achievements were made despite the increasing paralysis caused by
the ALS. By 1974, he was unable to feed himself or get out of bed. His
speech became slurred so that he could be understood only by people who
knew him well. In 1985, he caught pneumonia and had to have a
tracheotomy, which made him unable to speak at all. A Cambridge scientist
built a device that enables Hawking to write onto a computer with small
movements of his body and a voice- synthesizer speaks what he has
typed.</p>
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<p>Billionaire Richard Branson pledged to pay all expenses for a space-
trip in a rocket costing an estimated $ 375,000 during which time he
experienced weightlessness some eight times that took place on 26 April
2007. He became the first quadriplegic to float in zero-gravity that was
the first time in forty years that he moved freely, without his
wheelchair.</p>
<p>Stephen Hawking is <strong>severely-disabled</strong>. His illness is
markedly different from typical-ALS in that his form of the disease would
make for the most protracted case ever documented. A survival rate of
more than ten years after diagnosis is extremely rare for ALS. The
longest documented-durations are thirty-two and thirty-nine years and
these cases were termed benign because of the lack of the typical
progressive course.</p>
<p>Â </p>
<p><strong> 1 / 2</strong></p>
<p>When he was young, he enjoyed riding horses and playing with other
children. At Oxford, he was the coxswain on a rowing team, which, he
stated, helped relieve his immense boredom at the university. Symptoms of
the disorder first appeared while he was enrolled at University of
Cambridge. He lost his balance and fell down a flight of stairs, hitting
his head. Worried that he would lose his genius, he took the Mensa test
to verify that his intellectual abilities were intact. The diagnosis of
motor-neuron disease came when he was 21 and doctors said he would not
survive more than two or three years. He gradually lost the use of his
arms, legs and voice. As  of 2009, he has been almost completely
paralyzed.</p>
<p>During a visit to <strong>CERN</strong> in Geneva (European
Organization for Nuclear Research) in 1985, he contracted pneumonia,
which, in his condition, was life-threatening as it further restricted
his already limited respiratory capacity. He had an emergency tracheotomy
and as a result, lost what remained of his ability to speak. He has since
used an "electronic-voice-synthesizer" to com-municate. The "DECtalk-
DTC01" voice-synthesizer he uses, which has an American/ English accent,
is no longer being produced. Asked why he has still kept it after so many
years, Hawking mentioned that he has not heard a voice he likes better
and that he identifies with it. He is look-ing for a replacement unit
since the one being used is obsolete, besides being both large and, at
the same time, fragile, by current standards.</p>
<p>In his many media appearances, he appears to speak fluently through
his synthesizer but in reality, it is a tedious, drawn-out process. His
setup uses a "predictive-text-entry-system" that requires only the first
few characters to "auto-complete" the word but as he is only able to use
his cheek for "data-entry", constructing complete sentences takes time.
His speeches are prepared in advance but having a live conversation with
him provides insight as to the complexity and work involved. During a
specific conference talk, it took him seven minutes to answer a
question.</p>
<p>He describes himself as lucky despite his disease. Its slow
progression has allowed him time to make influential discoveries and has
not hindered him from having, in his own words, "a very attractive
family." When his wife, Jane, was asked why she decided to marry a man
with a three-year life expectancy, she responded, "Those were the days of
atomic gloom-and-doom so we all had rather a short-life-expectancy."</p>
<p>His belief that the lay person should have access to his work led him
to write a series of popular science books, in addition to his academic
work. The first of these, A Brief History of Time, was published on 1
April 1988 by Hawking, his family and friends, and some leading
physicists. It was a best-seller, surprisingly, and was followed by The
Universe in a Nutshell (2001). Both books have remained highly popular
all over the world. He and his daughter, Lucy Hawking, have recently
published a children's book focusing on science that has been described
to be "like Harry Potter but without the magic." The book is George's
Secret Key to the Universe and includes information on the Hawking
radiation theory.</p>
<p>Currently, Stephen Hawking is under-going experiments with "thought-
based communication systems" using a specially-designed helmet to process
brain-waves by conversion of these "waves" into physical actions such as
voice, arm-movements, head-adjustments, leg-movements and possible
wheelchair- movements. These experiments are ideal for patients with Lou
Gehrig's disease. As the disease progresses, patients have fully
functional brains but slowly lose control over their muscles. "Synthetic-
telepathy" could be a way for these patients to communicate in the future
based on these experiments being conducted both here and abroad.</p>
<p>Â </p>
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