I feel extremely privileged to be able to attend a symposium to mark the 70th birthday of physicist Professor Stephen Hawking, a brilliant cosmologist acclaimed globally whose life has surpassed medical expectations.
The remarkable Prof Hawking was told in 1963 that he had just months to live after being diagnosed with the degenerative Motor Neurone Disease, but he has miraculously defied medics and gone on to spend 30 years as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, taking up the post in 1979 and retiring on 1 October 2009. Instead of then retiring, be became Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge; there is still so much left to discover in the universe.
How could a man with such a brilliant mind ever contemplate retiring? I think the answer is, unequivocally, never. And, of course, he deserves a very special birthday event to celebrate with like minds, which is why the symposium is such a brilliant idea. The event will come at the end of a three-day conference which will include world leading scientists discussing current research on cosmology and physics, including black holes.
Prof Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time which has sold more than 10 million copies, will speak on A Brief History of Mine and be joined by the brightest luminaries, astronomer Lord Rees, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, speaking on From Planets to Universes; Prof Saul Perlumtter, a Nobel prize winner, on Supernova, Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe; and Prof Kip Thorne, on Black Holes: A New Golden Age. This extraordinary four-hour event will be shown on a live webcast. As I said before, I feel so honoured to be there.
I hope we will all stand at the symposium and sing a rousing Happy Birthday to Prof Hawking on 8 January (a Capricorn for those of us who follow the other stars too!) and who in a preceding interview may be asked some of the following compelling questions by the BBC which were submitted by the public:
Do you think the Human Race will ultimately survive all potential disasters and eventually colonise the stars ? Matt Dotchon, Cardiff, Wales via email.
Can you tell me what will happen to this world in the near future? Adisorn Treenate via Facebook.
Was there a "time" when there was "nothing"? Roland, Lagos, Nigeria via email.
I'd like to ask Prof Hawking why there is something rather than nothing? Lee Jordan (@llcoolj40) via Twitter.
What big (or trivial) question keeps you awake at night? Jeremy Braithwaite, Chelmsford via email.
If the Higgs Boson does not exist, what else can explain the existence of more dark matter than normal matter? Jeremy Lott, Walsall England via email
Without intelligent life forms, would the Universe have a point? #AskHawking Rosa Monckton (@MoncktonR) via Twitter. Is it THE Rosa Monckton?
@BBCr4today #askhawking is rationalism an article of faith? Matthew Burling (@mjburling) via Twitter
#AskHawking what would be the next big thing to research and discover in his eyes. Where should we me looking? Martin Taylor (@krazyrocketman) via Twitter
Will we ever be able to travel the kinds of distances that would enable us to colonise Keppler22b? Mike Bull (@chinash0p) via Twitter.
If I could tell a 12-year-old Stephen Hawking all he would achieve, would he be as impressed as the rest of us? Paul Johnson, Sandhurst via email.
I'd like to ask Prof Hawking a question too: "Is there a secret to your longevity? How have you managed to survive against all odds?" It's extraordinary and miraculous, especially as I have known two younger people to die from MND in the last few years.
I am really looking forward to this symposium, and to hearing his answers to some of these baffling questions, some of which may have no answers even for the most brilliant brain of Prof Hawking.