Freeman Dyson

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

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 Sphere

Dyson was a Scholar at the renowned Winchester College, England’s oldest public school, from 1939 to 1941. He then worked as an analyst for RAF Bomber Command at RAF Wyton for the remainder of World War II. There, along with Patrick Blackett (later Lord Blackett OM PRS), Cecil Gordon, C. H. Waddington, Owen Wansbrough-Jones, Frank Yates and Jacob Bronowski, he would come to create what would later be known as operational research. After the war, he obtained a BA in mathematics from the University of Cambridge (1945) and was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge from 1946 to 1949. In 1947 he moved to the US, on a fellowship at Cornell University and thence joined the faculty there as a physics professor in 1951 without a PhD. In 1953, he took up a post at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. In 1957, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

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 Andrew 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’s idea’s on global warming have recently caused some to accuse him of being a GW heretic.

Via Freeman Dyson

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