Stephen Hawking celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday, though he was not able to attend the symposium held in Cambridge in his honor. Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, made the announcement that Hawking, the guest of honor, would not be present.

The very fact that Stephen Hawking has reached his 70th birthday is an astounding fact in itself. Hawking, perhaps the world’s most famous scientist, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS], more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at age 21. That disease usually leads to death within three years of diagnosis, making Hawking’s almost half-century experience with ALS all the more amazing.

Add to this the remarkable productivity of Hawking’s work as a scientist and public intellectual. Confined to a wheelchair most of those years, he has been dependent upon a breathing tube for years now. No longer able to speak, he has communicated for several years through a special computer device that allows him to choose words as the machine follows his cues. Most recently, those cues are communicated only through voluntary twitches of his cheek. It can take him up to ten minutes to compose a single sentence….

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