Freeman John Dyson (born December 15, 1923) is an English-born American physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum mechanics, nuclear weapons design and policy, and for his serious theorizing in futurism and science fiction concepts, including the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Dyson worked as an analyst for British Bomber Command during World War II. After the war, he obtained a degree in mathematics from Cambridge University (1945) and was a Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1946 to 1949. In 1947 he moved to the US, on a fellowship at Cornell University and then joined the faculty there as a physics professor in 1951. 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.
In the years following the war, Dyson was responsible for demonstrating the equivalence of the two formulations of quantum electrodynamics which existed at the time - Richard Feynman's path integral formulation and the variational methods developed by Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga (Dyson operator).
From 1957 to 1961 he worked on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space-flight using nuclear propulsion. A prototype was demonstrated using conventional explosives, but a treaty banning the use of nuclear weapons in space caused the project to be abandoned.
Dyson has published a number of collections of speculations and observations about technology, science, and the future:
- The Sun, The Genome and The Internet
- Imagined Worlds
- From Eros to Gaia
- Disturbing the Universe
Dyson was a long time member of the JASON defense advisory group.
Main article: Dyson sphere
In 1960 Dyson wrote a short paper for the journal Science, entitled "Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation". In it, he theorized that a technologically advanced society might completely surround its native star 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 civilisations 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". One of the most famous examples was illustrated in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which retired Engineer Scotty (from the original Star Trek) was found to have crash-landed on an abandoned Dyson sphere. Larry Niven's novel Ringworld was based on Dyson's concept, and was a scientifically detailed attempt to visualize a much simpler structure.
Main article: 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.
He has six children. One daughter is Esther Dyson, the noted digital technology consultant. His son is the historian of technology George Dyson, one of whose books is Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957-1965. His wife, Imme Dyson, is an accomplished masters runner. 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 Freeman's interest in science.
- Freeman J. Dyson's homepage
- Freeman Dyson Biography
- Wired magazine interview: Freeman Dyson's Brain
- listen to a Freeman Dyson interview on Radiophiles.org
- audio of NPR interview with Freeman Dyson
- Freeman Dyson: Gravity is Cool, or, Why our Universe is Hospitable to Life - text of the Oppenheimer lecture March 9, 2000
- Disturbing the Universe: Interview with Freeman Dyson
- Freeman Dyson wins $1m religion prize
- Freeman Dysons scientific publications from PubMed
- In Praise of Open Thinking, audio from a panel discussion with his son George on ITConversations.com