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Freeman John Dyson FRS (born December 15, 1923) is a British-American theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. Dyson is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Dyson lives in Princeton, New Jerseymarker, as he has for over fifty years.



Dyson's father was the English composer George Dyson. Despite sharing a last name, he is not related to early 20th century astronomer Frank Watson Dyson. However, as a small boy, Freeman Dyson was aware of Frank Watson Dyson; Freeman credits the popularity of someone with the same last name with inadvertently helping to spark his interest in science. Dyson received an honorary Sc.D. from Bates Collegemarker in 1990.

Dyson's mother was trained as a lawyer but worked, after Dyson was born, as a social worker.

Dyson has six children, two of them (Esther and George) with his first wife, mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson, and the other four with his second wife, Imme Dyson, a masters runner who married him in 1958.

His eldest daughter is Esther Dyson, the noted digital technology consultant. His son is digital technology historian George Dyson.; one of whose books is Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965.

Friends and colleagues describe him as shy and self-effacing with a contrarian streak that his friends find refreshing but his intellectual opponents find exasperating. "I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice," physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg said of him. His friend, the neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, said: "A favorite word of Freeman's about doing science and being creative is the word 'subversive.' He feels it's rather important not only to be not orthodox, but to be subversive, and he's done that all his life."


Although Dyson has won numerous scientific awards, he has never won a Nobel Prize, which has led Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg to state that the Nobel committee has "fleeced" Dyson. Dyson has said that “I think it’s almost true without exception if you want to win a Nobel Prize, you should have a long attention span, get hold of some deep and important problem and stay with it for 10 years. That wasn’t my style.”

Dyson was a Scholar at the renowned Winchester Collegemarker from 1939 to 1941. He then worked as an analyst for RAF Bomber Command at RAF Wytonmarker for the remainder of World War II, where he would come to create what would be later known as operational research. After the war, he obtained a BA in mathematics from Cambridge Universitymarker (1945) and was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridgemarker from 1946 to 1949. In 1947 he moved to the US, on a fellowship at Cornell Universitymarker and thence joined the faculty there as a physics professor in 1951 without a PhD. He was elected a FRS in 1952 In 1953, he took up a post at the Institute for Advanced Studymarker in Princeton, NJmarker. In 1957, he became a naturalized citizen of the United Statesmarker.

Dyson is best known for demonstrating in 1949 the equivalence of the formulations of quantum electrodynamics that existed by that time — Richard Feynman's diagrammatic path integral formulation and the operator method developed by Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. A by-product of that demonstration was the invention of the Dyson series. It was this Dyson paper that inspired John Ward to derive his celebrated Ward identity.

Dyson also did work in a variety of topics in mathematics, such as topology, analysis, number theory and random matrices.

From 1957 to 1961 he worked on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear pulse propulsion. A prototype was demonstrated using conventional explosives, but a treaty which he was involved in and supported, banned the testing of nuclear weapons other than underground, and this caused the project to be abandoned.

In 1958 he led the design team for the TRIGA, a small, inherently safe nuclear reactor used throughout the world in hospitals and universities for the production of isotopes.

A seminal work by Dyson came in 1966 when, together with A. Lenard and independently of Elliott H. Lieb and Walter Thirring, he proved rigorously that the exclusion principle plays the main role in the stability of bulk matter. Hence, it is not the electromagnetic repulsion between electrons and nuclei that is responsible for two wood blocks that are left on top of each other not coalescing into a single piece, but rather it is the exclusion principle applied to electrons and protons that generates the classical macroscopic normal force. In condensed matter physics, Dyson also did studies in the phase transition of the Ising model in 1 dimension and spin waves.

Dyson was awarded the Lorentz Medal in 1966 and Max Planck medal in 1969.

In 1977, Dyson supervised Princeton undergraduate John Aristotle Phillips in a term paper that outlined a credible design for a nuclear weapon. This earned Phillips the nickname The A-Bomb Kid.

Around 1979, Dyson worked with the Institute for Energy Analysis on climate studies. This group, under the direction of Alvin Weinberg, pioneered multidisciplinary climate studies, including a strong biology group.

In the 1984–85 academic year he gave the Gifford lectures at Aberdeen, which resulted in the book Infinite In All Directions.

In 1989, Dyson taught at Duke Universitymarker as a Fritz London Memorial Lecturer. In the same year, he was elected as an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge.

Dyson has published a number of collections of speculations and observations about technology, science, and the future. In 1996 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science.

In 1998, Dyson joined the board of the Solar Electric Light Fund

In 2000, Dyson was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

, Dyson is the president of the Space Studies Institute, the space research organization founded by Gerard K. O'Neill.

In 2003, Dyson was awarded the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology in Telluride, Colorado.

Dyson is a long-time member of the JASON defense advisory group.


Biotechnology and genetic engineering

Dyson cheerfully admits his record as a prophet is mixed, but "it is better to be wrong than to be vague."

Dyson sphere

In 1960 Dyson wrote a short paper for the journal Science, entitled "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation". In it, he theorized that a technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilization might completely surround its native star with artificial structures in order to maximize the capture of the star's available energy. Eventually, the civilization would completely enclose the star, intercepting electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths from visible light downwards and radiating waste heat outwards as infrared radiation. Therefore, one method of searching for extraterrestrial civilizations would be to look for large objects radiating in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Dyson conceived that such structures would be clouds of asteroid-sized space habitats, though science fiction writers have preferred a solid structure: either way, such an artifact is often referred to as a Dyson sphere, although Dyson himself used the term "shell". Dyson says that he used the term "artificial biosphere" in the article meaning a habitat, not a shape. The general concept of such an energy-reflecting shell had been advanced decades earlier by author Olaf Stapledon in his 1937 novel Star Maker, a source that Dyson has reportedly credited publicly.

Dyson tree

Dyson has also proposed the creation of a Dyson tree, a genetically-engineered plant capable of growing on a comet. He suggested that comets could be engineered to contain hollow spaces filled with a breathable atmosphere, thus providing self-sustaining habitats for humanity in the outer solar system.

Space colonies

Freeman Dyson has been interested in space travel since he was a child, reading such science fiction classics as Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker. As a young man, he worked for General Atomicsmarker on the nuclear-powered Orion spacecraft. He hoped Project Orion would put men on Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970. He's been unhappy for a quarter-century on how the government conducts space travel:

He still hopes for cheap space travel, but is resigned to waiting for private entrepreneurs to develop something new—and cheap.

Space exploration

Dyson's transform

Dyson also has some credits in pure mathematics. His concept "Dyson's transform" led to one of the most important lemma of Olivier Ramaré's theorem that every even integer can be written as a sum of no more than six primes.

Dyson series

The Dyson series, the formal solution of an explicitly time-dependent Schrödinger equation by iteration, and the corresponding Dyson time-ordering operator \mathcal T\,, an entity of basic importance in the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, are also called after him.


Global warming

Dyson agrees that anthropogenic global warming exists, and has written

However, he has argued that existing simulation models of climate fail to account for some important factors, and hence the results will contain too much error to reliably predict future trends.

He is among signatories of a letter to the UN criticizing the IPCC andhas also argued against the ostracization of scientists whose views depart from the acknowledged mainstream of scientific opinion on climate change, stating that "heretics" have historically been an important force in driving scientific progress.

More recently, he has endorsed the now common usage of "global warming" as synonymous with global anthropogenic climate change, referring to recent

but has argued that political efforts to reduce the causes of climate change distract from other global problems that should take priority.

Dyson's views on global warming have been criticizedas failing to understand the amount of carbon sequestration needed. Dyson has proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. His caveat is that if CO2 levels soar too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred “carbon-eating trees". He calculates that it would take a trillion trees to remove all carbon from the atmosphere, which he believes in principle is quite feasible.

Dyson is well-aware that his "heresy" on global warming has been strongly criticized. In reply, he notes that:

Warfare and weapons

On hearing the news of the bombing of Hiroshima:

At the British Bomber Command, Dyson and colleagues proposed ripping out two gun turrets from the RAF Lancaster bombers, to cut the catastrophic losses to German fighters in the Battle of Berlin. A Lancaster without turrets could fly faster and be much more maneuverable.

Dyson opposes the Vietnam war, the Gulf War, and the invasion of Iraq. He supported Barack Obama during the election and The New York Times has described him as a political liberal.

The role of failure

On English academics

Science and religion

Dyson strongly opposes reductionism. He is a non-denominational Christian and has attended various churches from Presbyterian to Roman Catholic. Regarding doctrinal or christological issues, he has said "I am neither a saint nor a theologian. To me, good works are more important than theology."

Dyson disagrees with the famous remark by his fellow-physicist Steven Weinberg that "Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion."

See also


By Dyson

About Dyson

  • Brower, Kenneth, 1978. The Starship and the Canoe, Holt Rinehart and Winston.
  • Schweber, Sylvan S., 1994. QED and the Men Who Made It : Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga, Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691033273.


External links

By Dyson

* Comments on "The Question of Global Warming", with a reply by Dyson, September 25, 2008
* Comments on "Our Biotech Future", with a reply by Dyson,September 27, 2007
* Another comment on "Our Biotech Future", with a reply by Dyson, October 11, 2007

About Dyson

* Interview, June 4, 2009, Dyson comments on the misleading overemphasis of his climate-change views in the NYT profile.

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