Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Understood or not, Hawking Conquers Beijing Science Lovers

They listened attentively and thought hard, some leaning forward, some frowning and others holding their chins and cheeks, but terms like "11-dimensional" and "Ekpyrotic Universe" were just too sophisticated for most to understand.


They listened attentively and thought hard, some leaning forward, some frowning and others holding their chins and cheeks, but terms like "11-dimensional" and "Ekpyrotic Universe" were just too sophisticated for most to understand.

Although some began to yawn occasionally, no one chose to rise and leave because the speaker on the platform was Stephen Hawking,the hero of the scientific world.

More than 2,000 people gave up their Sunday holiday and crowdedinto the Beijing International Conference Center this afternoon tohear a 1.5-hour public speech from the legendary British master ofphysics and cosmography.

"I think he (Hawking) is a man of strong will. I'm really surprised to see him doing so important a job in such a poor health," said a woman in the audience who would only give her surname Gao.

A postgraduate student from the chemistry department of China'sprestigious Beijing University, Gao said she had read Hawking's famous book "A Brief History of Time" only once and could not completely understand it.

"I have never heard about him (Hawking) before. But my friends in college told me he was a great man, so I came to see him myself," said 22-year-old Mr. Xiao, a migrant laborer from northwest China's Shaanxi province.

One hour before the speech, which was scheduled for 3:00 p.m., the audience waiting to check in had formed a 50-meter queue at the entrance to the conference center.

There was standing room only. However not many people were standing due to the strict control by the organizers. Without an invitation or a ticket, not even the media was allowed in.

The audience gave a standing ovation when the wheelchair bound scientist arrived. There were also several spontaneous bursts of applause in the 10 minutes before Hawks began his formal speech.

The opening remarks of the severely-disabled scientist, who hasto use an artificial voice generating device for communication, were "Can you hear me?", to which the crowd replied with a loud "yes" and yet another round of applause.

While a conspicuous banner hanging in the hall read "Listen to the voice of the science giant, understand the thoughts of the science giant," most of the audience quickly found how hard it wasto accomplish the second goal.

The topic of the speech was the "Brane New World," which according to the speaker was a pun on the word "brain." As it demonstrates the latest achievements in his theoretic studies, Hawking had spoken on the same topic during his earlier tour to east China's Hangzhou City and the municipality of Tianjin near Beijing.

But the audience's reaction to the speech was not as enthusiastic as in the opening stage. Except for a small stir whenHawking showed a poster of the Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster The Matrix into his slide show and some applause when he quipped aboutthe Nobel Prize, the speech was dominated by a respectful silence.

A small climax arrived when the speech was almost over. Seeing a video clip featuring Hawking playing a card game with Sir Issac Newton and Albert Einstein, the whole audience burst into laughterand clapped excitedly.

"I could only understand the first half of his speech, in whichbroad relativism and black holes were mentioned. But I really got confused when he started talking about the 10th or 11th dimension and many other new stuff," said the Miss Gao from the Beijing University.

"It seems to me that the theories of physics are becoming more and more abstract," she added. "But Hawking's words of wit still impressed me a lot."

For Mr. Xiao, the migrant laborer who is just a high school graduate, what Hawking said completely went over his head.

But Xiao said it was good that the scientist had used some simple charts and graphics to illustrate his complicated ideas.

"This experience has made me realize how important it is to study new things. At least I will start improving my English, so next time I can catch some of his words," he said.

Liu Kefeng, a US-based guest professor of mathematics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences which organized the event, said that both the organizers and Hawking himself were surprised to see so many people showing such a great interest in the speech.

"At the very beginning we thought this would be a pure academicactivity," said Liu. "But this is a pleasant and exciting surprise."

Liu hoped that Hawking's China trip would help foster more science lovers and also encourage more Chinese youth to devote themselves to science. "I have already seen some hope of this," hesaid.

Source: Xinhua

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