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Signed and dated acknowledgement page of Stephen Hawking's 1966 PhD thesis

A young physicist submitted his doctoral thesis 52 years ago this month. The title was “Properties of Expanding Universes,” and its length at 117 pages was well exceeded by its ambition. The author explored existing theories of gravitation, the dynamics of a universe that was at once expanding, homogenous and isotropic, and also the inevitability of singularities in very general conditions.

“This dissertation is my original work,” reads a handwritten message at the beginning, signed by S.W. Hawking, and dated Oct. 15, 1965.

Stephen Hawking, as we now know, would go on to become the most well-known scientist since Albert Einstein. His thesis only hinted at his future prominence. But now it is getting thousands of more views than it ever did filed away at the University of Cambridge library.

The university’s library announced today that it was making the thesis freely available in its open access online collection, following Hawking’s permission. And already the servers for the school’s Apollo system have been taxed to capacity.

“It’s wonderful of hear how many people have already shown an interest in downloading my thesis,” Hawking wrote in a statement released by the school today. “Hopefully they won’t be disappointed now that they have finally have access to it!”

As of midday, the Apollo site was experiencing difficulties to all digitized versions of the thesis, on multiple browsers.

The announcement kicks off Open Access Week 2017, a global event across cyberspace.

The unveiling also is a milestone for future scientists. From this month and into the future, all Cambridge Ph.D. students will be required to include an electronic copy of their work for preservation. The school is also encouraging former students and affiliates – including 98 Nobel winners since 1904 – to make their work freely available on Apollo. (Interested alumni are encouraged to contact thesis@repository.cam.ac.uk).

“Cambridge University Library has a 600-year-old history we are very proud of,” said Jessica Gardner, director of library services at the school. “It is home to the physical papers of such greats as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Their research data was on paper and we have preserved that with great care and share it openly online through our digital library.”

Hawking has appeared to embrace technology, and this is not his first foray into publishing online. Last year, Hawking posted a paper on his theory of “soft hair” and “supertranslations” around black holes; it was not published in any journal, but was instead posted publicly for onlookers.

Hawking said in today’s statement that each generation builds upon one another, and his own work was built off a foundation provided by Newton and Einstein and James Clark Maxwell.

“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,” Hawking said.

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