For the first time ever, Stephen Hawking is allowing the public to view his PhD thesis online free of charge. “Properties of Expanding Universes” , the name of the landmark thesis, can now be accessed through the Cambridge University Library. This means that anyone, anywhere in the world, can now see the document.
The eminent physicist’s life was the inspiration behind the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, and after the completion of this seminal work in 1965, he went on to a distinguished career in theoretical physics.
The public can find the thesis on the University’s Apollo repository as part of Open Access 2017, a university and policy-supported mandate designed to encourage greater public access to documents. Hawking stated very clearly the thinking behind this important decision in a statement released by the university:
"By making my PhD thesis Open Access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and to try and make sense of the cosmos. Anyone, anywhere in the world should have free, unhindered access to not just my research, but to the research of every great and enquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding."
The Cambridge University Library created a compressed digitized version in the form of a high-resolution 72 Mb sized file. From this, users can access PDF files of the thesis. Sounds like a good idea, but what the university had not counted on, perhaps, was the overwhelming response worldwide to the release of the thesis. Even before the announcement, the thesis had already been Cambridge University Library’s most requested item.
The servers were completely overwhelmed, with Stuart Roberts, Cambridge University Deputy Head of Research Communications, reporting a viewing of the thesis that had surpassed 60,000 by late Monday.
Prior to this time, for the price of about 65 pounds, copies could be made of the work, filed under the name Ph.D. 5437, thanks to the ominous written message of "No copying without author's consent" that appears on the inside cover.
"We have had a huge response to Professor Hawking's decision to make his Ph.D. thesis publicly available to download," in a statement from a university spokesperson. "As a result, visitors to our open access site may find that it is performing slower than usual and may at times be temporarily unavailable."
Deputy Head of Scholarly Communication, Dr. Arthur Smith, makes the link between open access and creating a future body of work for the next generations of researchers: “Open Access enables research...By eliminating the barriers between people and knowledge we can realise new breakthroughs in all areas of science, medicine and technology.”
“From October 2017 onwards, all PhD students graduating from the University of Cambridge will be required to deposit an electronic copy of their doctoral work for future preservation. And like Professor Hawking, we hope that many students will also take the opportunity to freely distribute their work online by making their thesis Open Access.”