[FOUNTAIN]A beautiful mind

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[FOUNTAIN]A beautiful mind

Six years ago, I had the honor of catching a glimpse of the famed physicist Stephen Hawking at Cambridge University in England. A frail, almost crumbling man, Mr. Hawking was in his wheelchair, navigating his way through the campus. As college students on bicycles sped by this celebrated figure, I was left wondering if Mr. Hawking's ailing body might not fall out of his wheelchair at any moment.

It was 1962 when amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a neuromuscular disorder that progressively weakens muscle control, struck Mr. Hawking at age 20. He had just graduated from Oxford and was preparing himself to enter Cambridge to continue his studies. One day Mr. Hawking began to realize that he had trouble performing simple tasks such as tying his shoelaces. Suddenly he realized he only had a few years left to live, perhaps five at the most. Who would have guessed, by beating all the odds, that this once doomed young student would see his 60th birthday. Last Tuesday was the day that the-then young Mr. Hawking thought he might never live long enough to see. On Friday, at Cambridge, a symposium is scheduled to celebrate his 60th.

Needless to say, Mr. Hawking will be at the center of this event, talking about the most intoxicating subject that has long fascinated him and much of mankind: endless space.

The various marks that he has left in the modern history of physics are enough to blow away most like-minded peers and certainly enough to make most normal heads spin. Mr. Hawking's thoughts have been spread through his best-seller "A Brief History of Time." Published in 1988 and translated into 40 languages, the book has sold more than 10 million copies. He helped enlighten the public about concepts such as the "Big Bang Theory," which explains the birth of the universe, and the "black hole," a void in space. No wonder colleagues call him a "missionary of physics."

He has not only educated the common crowd, but he has gone a little further: He consolidated the existing general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics theory - two inconsistent theories - to give birth to quantum gravity.

Though a fatal disease has crippled his body, Mr. Hawking likes to make light of his physical situation. He says that he has more time to concentrate on his work rather than to waste time on jogging or golf.

While the rest of the world views him as the brightest mind after Einstein, Mr. Hawking says his greatest achievement in life is this: "I am alive."

The writer is a deputy cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byong-sang

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