R.I.P. Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson in 2007
Freeman Dyson in 2007

The physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson passed away yesterday, February 28 (photo ©Monroem). His daughter Mia confirmed the news explaining that her father got injured after falling in his office in Princeton last Wednesday and complications led to his death.

Freeman John Dyson was born on December 15, 1923 in Crowthorne, Berkshire, England. He showed a talent and an interest in science when he was very young and at 15 he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. At age 19, during World War II, he was assigned to the Operational Research Section (ORS) of the Royal Air Force Bombers Command. After the war ended, he returned to Trinity College, where he earned a bachelor in mathematics.

In 1947, Freeman Dyson moved to the USA, where he earned a doctorate in physics from Cornell University studying with physicist Hans Bethe. There he also met another famous physicist, Richard Feynman, and worked with him for some time. In 1949 he returned to England, where he worked in particular on quantum electodynamics, and in 1950 he married the Swiss mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson, with whom he had two children. In 1951 he moved to the USA for good, to Princeton, where he worked until the end of his career and where he continued to have an office until the end of his life. In 1957 he received US citizenship.

In addition to theoretical studies, Freeman Dyson pursued various technological projects starting with the Orion Project, which aimed to build a nuclear-powered rocket, and subsequently to a class of nuclear reactors called TRIGA (Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics) for the production of isotopes for medical use.

In 1958, Freeman Dyson divorced his first wife and married Imme Jung, with whom he had four children.

Over the years, Freeman Dyson wrote articles that proposed ideas and projects such as the Dyson sphere, a structure built to completely surround a star to use all the energy it emits, and the Dyson tree, a plant created by engineering genetics to grow on a comet useful to create space habitats in which it would generate oxygen. Recently he proposed a variant of this project with the idea of ​​creating plants that absorbed more carbon dioxide.

Various ideas proposed by Freeman Dyson concern space exploration and colonization. They embraced the various elements of long-term space programs, in the sense that they proposed possibilities regarding space travel methods but also biotechnologies he thought were needed to support artificial habitats.

Freeman Dyson was an eclectic scientist who proposed projects in various scientific and technological fields, sometimes causing controversy. He received various awards but not the Nobel Prize and about this subject in 2009 he stated that to win it you need to focus on a deep and important problem for ten years but that wasn’t his style. If just a part of the projects he proposed over the decades gets realized, humanity will make great progress.

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