Tuesday, April 21, 2009

S. Hawking...better

"Stephen Hawking expected to make full recovery"

Doctors say condition of scientist, 67, is improving after he was taken to hospital 'very ill'


Ian Sample and Robert Booth

April 21st, 2009


The family of physicist Stephen Hawking said today they were looking forward to him making a full recovery after he fell ill and was admitted to hospital yesterday.

Hawking, 67, was taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, for tests after he fell "very ill", but his condition appears to have improved and he was said to be in a "comfortable" condition today.

"Professor Hawking is being kept in for observation at Addenbrooke's hospital this morning," a spokesman for Cambridge University said. "He is comfortable and his family is looking forward to him making a full recovery."

Hawking has been unwell for a couple of weeks, and earlier this month pulled out of a headline appearance at a science conference in Arizona to recover from a chest infection.

A Cambridge University spokesman said Hawking was still having tests for a condition that was not related to his respiratory infection, and was not life threatening.

The scientist, who rose to wider public prominence in 1988 with the publication of his bestselling A Brief History of Time, began to develop the symptoms of incurable motor neurone disease in the 1960s, gradually losing the use of his limbs and voice.

He has worked at the university's department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics for over 30 years, but is due to step down as Lucasian professor of mathematics, a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton, at the end of the academic year. It is customary to retire from the post at 67, though Hawking intends to continue as professor emeritus.

In a career spanning almost 50 years, Hawking has wrestled with some of the most puzzling questions in cosmology. With Sir Roger Penrose, at Oxford University, he used the physics of collapsing stars to argue that space and time could begin at points in the universe called "singularities".

In a lecture he gave in 2007 in honour of Nasa's 50th anniversary at George Washington University in Washington DC, Hawking suggested primitive alien life might be common.

In 2002 Hawking, one of the most recognisable figures on the streets of Cambridge, drove his high-powered wheelchair into a wall while in a rush to get into town. He broke his hip and almost missed his 60th birthday celebrations.

In 2007 he became the first disabled person to experience weightlessness aboard a Boeing 727 that replicates the freefall conditions of being in orbit. The plane, which flew from Nasa's Cape Canaveral site in Florida, performed eight steep dives over the Atlantic, allowing the physicist to float freely for 25-second spells.

Hawking has since signed up to fly to the edge of space next year as one of Sir Richard Branson's first space tourists aboard the Virgin Galactic spacecraft.

His progressive disease has left Hawking reliant upon a computer screen and a voice synthesiser to communicate. His cultural reach has led to appearances in The Simpsons, Futurama and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Motor neurone diseases steadily destroy the nerves that control muscles. Doctors usually give patients three years to live after their first symptoms appear. Hawking, who is thought to have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is one of the world's longest-surviving MND patients and has round-the-clock care from a team of nurses.

Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5% of people diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking "is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival", Dickie said.

Peter Haynes, head of the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics, said: "Professor Hawking is a remarkable colleague. We all hope he will be amongst us again soon."

Hawking was born in Oxford and grew up in St Albans, Hertfordshire. He studied at Oxford University before moving to Cambridge to carry out research in cosmology. He was awarded the CBE in 1982, made a Companion of Honour in 1989 and is a fellow of the Royal Society.

Stephen Hawking ill

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