Without even trying, Stephen Hawking did what Kim Kardashian tried — unsuccessfully — to do: He broke the internet. In honor of Open Access Week, Cambridge University, Hawking’s alma mater, made his Ph.D. thesis, “Properties of Expanding Universes,” available for free on its website. Good luck accessing it, though. Ever since the document went live and media outlets began covering it, browser requests have been timing out.
“Professor Hawking is a phenomenon in his own right, but I don’t think they had expected quite so much interest,” a university spokesperson tells Inverse. “We’ve been overwhelmed in various ways by it.” According to Cambridge sources, around 428,000 people have viewed page, and 60,000 downloaded the thesis. There have been about 300,000 views for the digital library version.
The thesis is not an unusually large file size (32 megabytes), but these numbers are surely beyond the kind of traffic that the Cambridge Library website — which serves a student body of just around 20,000 — typically experiences.
“It’s been an awful lot of people actually attempting to have a look at this,” a university spokesperson tells Inverse. Fortunately, the university has taken measures to make it accessible to the public, and as of this article’s publication, the document has successfully loaded, if a bit slowly. Since 5 a.m., there’s been a redirect put in place to improve performance.
“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!” Hawking wrote in a statement before the site issues began. “By making my Ph.D. 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 inquiring mind across the spectrum of human understanding,” he said. Hawking’s choice to make his thesis open access comes at a moment when more and more scientists are rebelling against for-profit publishers and pushing for open access to academic research. And the overwhelming demand for his research shows that people want open access.
Hawking’s thesis, which he wrote in 1966, discusses the “implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe.” It represents the beginning of his seminal work on astrophysics and includes the conclusion that galaxies could not form through the growth of small perturbations.
The Cambridge library’s single most requested item, Hawking’s 134-page manuscript used to cost people 65 pounds (about $85) to access, reported the BBC.
If you liked this article, check out this video of Stephen Hawking’s chilling prediction for the future of humanity.