In a pleasant reminder that human beings still find nondumb things interesting, Cambridge University’s website crashed—and continues to be sputtering—after rock-star physicist Stephen Hawking posted his 1966 Ph.D. thesis on the site at midnight (British time), free for all to read. Not that you’d understand it. The then-24-year-old Hawking’s graduate work culminated in his 134-page doctoral thesis titled “Properties of Expanding Universes.” What’s the gist? “Some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe are examined,” the paper’s abstract explains.
Hawking went on to not just physics, but pop culture fame, making his thesis one of the most requested at Cambridge. But that hardly made it a barnburner, as requests at the library for Hawking’s thesis numbered roughly 200 over the past year and a half or so. Part of the problem was accessibility. According to the BBC, “previously, to read Hawking’s PhD in full, people had to pay £65 to the university library to scan a copy or physically go to the library to read it.”
Hawking agreed to share his work as part of a larger push to make research more widely available to scholars and students around the world:
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.
Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them, just as I did as a young PhD student in Cambridge, inspired by the work of Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein. It’s wonderful to hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis – hopefully they won’t be disappointed now that they finally have access to it!
Here’s the full abstract outlining Hawking’s thesis:
Some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe are examined. In Chapter 1 it is shown that this expansion creates grave difficulties for the Hoyle-Narlikar theory of gravitation. Chapter 2 deals with perturbations of an expanding homogeneous and isotropic universe. The conclusion is reached that galaxies cannot be formed as a result of the growth of perturbations that were initially small. The propogation and absorption of gravitational radiation is also investigated in this approximation. In Chapter 3 gravitational radiation in an expanding universe is examined by a method of asymptotic expansions. The ‘peeling off’ behaviour and the asymptotic group are derived. Chapter 4 deals with the occurrence of singularities in cosmological models. It is shown that a singularity is inevitable provided that certain very general conditions are satisfied.