It was the moment in space-time Hong Kong had been waiting for, when king of physics Stephen Hawking would take the people on a cosmological roller-coaster ride from the big bang through the present to the future of the universe. There was an air of expectation as academics, politicians, assorted professionals, students, members of the public and representatives of the disabled - given pride of place at the front of the hall - waited for the great man to arrive on stage at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's sports hall. The 1,800-strong audience waited for Professor Hawking's traditional opening, 'Hello, can you hear me?' Not that they had not heard him already. Interviews and clips of his star appearances in The Simpsons, Star Trek and other television shows had been shown in a half-hour warm-up. HKUST president Paul Chu Ching-wu introduced the star speaker as a 'miracle of the human mind and triumph of the human spirit'. And then there he was, wheeled on to rapturous applause to deliver the inaugural lecture for HKUST's Institute of Advanced Study on the theme 'The Origin of the Universe'. The 64-year-old Briton, who speaks with a voice synthesiser and has been paralysed since developing motor neurone disease when studying at Cambridge University, began by saying he had dedicated his life to answering the big questions: 'Where do we come from, why are we here.' He contrasted various hotchpotch ideas on man's beginnings with scientific reasoning, saying 17th century bishop James Usher had calculated the date of 'creation' as October 27, 4004BC. Greek philosophers, by contrast, thought the universe had existed forever. Scientists believed in absolute time until Einstein came up with a new geometric model of space-time in the general theory of relativity in 1915. Professor Hawking said advanced astronomy had revealed the universe was expanding, a discovery he described as 'one of the most important of the 20th or any other century'. He told his audience that when he was in his 20s, he brought new mathematical techniques to bear on black holes that allowed him to explore the beginning of the universe in a new way. Quantum theory was important at the moment of the big bang when the universe was one-billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimetre in size. He reasserted his concept of space and time as being finite but without boundaries, explaining that although the big bang had a beginning in real time, it was just a point on a continuum, much the way the South Pole was a point on the curvature of the Earth. There were many questions unanswered, such as whether the universe would expand forever and was inflation [of the universe] a law of nature? Professor Hawking raised a laugh when he said one of the voices he could choose for his synthesiser had a Welsh accent. 'My wife would have divorced me if I had accepted it,' he said. The machine has an American accent. HKUST council chairman John Chan gave the vote of thanks, saying: 'The impact of your visit will be felt for a long time to come. You and what you stand for have become our obsession. We never knew that the realm of scientific ideas could be this captivating.'