- The University of Cambridge posted Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis online in October.
- It put the document that launched his scientific career in front of a vastly expanded audience.
- Six months later, in March 2018, Hawking died at the age of 76.
- The PhD thesis was submitted when Hawking was 24 years old.
- It examines details of his theory of an expanding universe.
- The document includes hand-written equations and Hawking’s signature.
The original version of Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis was made freely available online for the first time six months before he died.
The 119-page document was submitted by Hawking, then a 24-year-old graduate student at the University of Cambridge.
He gave permission for the online publication in October, putting the document in front of a vastly expanded audience.
Its title is “Properties of an Expanding Universe,” and in the abstract Hawking promises to examine “some implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe.” By page three he is picking holes in Einstein.
An official stamp from Cambridge University dates the document to February 1, 1966, the year Hawking was awarded his doctorate. It is now hosted here, on Cambridge’s Apollo catalogue of academic work.
At the time, Hawking was beginning to suffer from the motor neurone disease which would eventually leave him unable to move almost any part of his body.
However, he was at that point still able to write. He signed the thesis several times, and included a hand-written declaration that the document was his own, original work.
Several pages also feature complicated mathematical equations which were written out by hand.
The document helped launched Hawking’s career, and formed the bedrock of his reputation as one of the world’s most famous scientists.
Shortly after his thesis was accepted, Hawking became a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge. He remained a professor there until his death.
Like all PhD theses, Hawking’s work has technically been available ever since it was accepted by Cambridge, so that other scholars could read and cite his work.
However, people wanting to see it would have had to go to Cambridge, or pay the university to receive a copy.
Cambridge was able to make the document publicly available once Hawking gave his personal permission to change the document’s status to “Open Access” as part of a wider push by the university to broaden the reach of its academic work.
In a statement accompanying the release, Hawking said he hopes the document will inspire more people to pursue science. He said:
“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.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated on March 14, 2018, to include details of Hawking’s death.
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