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[whitespace] Big Science

San Jose--Stephen Hawking has a lot on his mind. Perhaps best known for his theories on black holes, the British scientist's theories stretch to the very edge of our expanding universe, and all the way back to the its very beginning.

His first book, A Brief History of Time, made theoretical physics digestible for the layman and became one of the best-selling science books of all time. It also made Hawking one of the most widely-recognized scientists of this century.

As noted for his huge thoughts on huge subjects, Hawking is noted for having conquered a disability that confines him to a wheelchair and makes him almost unable to communicate.

When he was a graduate student at Cambridge University getting a Ph.D. in physics, he was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disorder A.L.S., sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease. Then, he wondered if he would live to complete his dissertation. That was nearly 40 years ago.

Today the 56-year-old cosmologist gets about in a high-tech wheelchair with a computer mounted on the back. And while his condition took away his ability to speak, technology is giving it back.

On the arm of his chair is a small screen with a cursor that allows him to select words and build sentences by clicking a button. Once he completes a sentence he sends it to a voice synthesizer that--to the Brit's chagrin--articulates his thoughts in an American accent.

Hawking assures that the company that built the synthesizer is working on a British version.

Hawking will interrupt his train of thought and fire up the synthesizer to bring the rest of up to speed on the cosmos when he spends Sunday in San Jose.

He's starting his day at the Fairmont Hotel where he will visit with disabled children. At 7:30 pm he will give his talk and slide show, "Science at the Millennium," in which he looks back at the last back 20 years, ahead 20, and assesses the state of science today.

The presentation is being sponsored by San Jose State, KTEH-TV, Intel, Waggener Edstrom and the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy.

Tickets are available through the City Box Office, 415-392-4400; SJSU's Event Center Box Office and through Bass Ticket Outlets or online.
Michael Learmonth

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Web extra to the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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