"Mine?" That was all stunned Nobel Prize winner Charles Kao Kuen could say when given the news of the award by his wife early on Monday morning.
Retired Chinese University of Hong Kong vice chancellor Kao, 75, is regarded as "the father of fiber optics" whose groundbreaking 1966 work launched the infotech revolution.
He has been named co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for physics.
The Chinese University yesterday held a celebration party for Kao attended by some 50 professors and the university's top management.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences called Kao's home in California's Silicon Valley at around 2am US time on Monday to inform them of the award.
"After I was told of the news [by the academy], I was shocked and became completely speechless," Kao's wife Gwen Kao May-wan told Sing Tao Daily, The Standard's sister publication. "After I hung up, I was so thrilled and could not wait to wake up my husband."
Kao, 75, suffers from dementia.
Gwen continued: "Then I asked my husband: `Do you know what the Nobel Prize is?' He answered: `It is a global and major award. It is a very big honor to win the prize. Then I told him: `The prize is now yours.'
"After hearing that, my husband was shocked and said `Mine?'," she recalled.
Gwen remembers the early days when Kao, then 32, worked tirelessly at the Standard Telecommunications Laboratories in Harlow, England, to pursue what he has called "a wild idea."
Gwen would complain about her husband skipping dinner with her and their two young children. Kao then told her he was on to something world-shaking in the laboratory.
Kao first joined CUHK in 1970, establishing the department of electronics while on sabbatical leave from his job in the United States. He returned in 1987 as vice chancellor, a job he would hold until his retirement in 1996.
He holds British and US passports and also has a home in Hong Kong.
In 1997, he worked as a consultant for Hong Kong Telecom (now PCCW).
Kao was instrumental in establishing the faculties of engineering and education, and "raised the quality of education offered at CUHK," said vice chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee.
Also at yesterday's celebration was Yang Chen-ning, the 1957 Nobel winner for physics.