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Futurist Freeman Dyson gives a rare public lecture

Retired physicist and mathematician to discuss Heretical Thoughts About Science

Freeman Dyson

English-born futurist Freeman Dyson, 82, delivers a rare public lecture today, Tuesday, November 1, at 6 p.m. His lecture, Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society, is free and open to the public at the School of Management auditorium, 595 Commonwealth Ave.

The retired Princeton University physicist and mathematician is a visiting professor at BU this fall, sponsored by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future.

Dyson is the intellectual father of the Dyson sphere theory of how a technologically advanced society could surround its native star to maximize the capture of its available energy. The theory was showcased in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, where retired engineer Scotty of the original Star Trek crash-landed on an abandoned Dyson sphere. Here on Earth, Dyson is the biological father of digarati opinion-maker Esther Dyson.

Renowned for quantum electrodynamics work at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, Dyson worked from 1957 to 1961 on the Orion Project, which proposed the possibility of space flight using nuclear propulsion. The project was abandoned after a treaty banned the use of nuclear weapons in space.

During World War II Dyson worked as a civilian scientist for the Royal Air Force. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1945 with a B.A. in mathematics. He went on to Cornell University as a graduate student in 1947 and worked with Hans Bethe and Richard Feynman.

His most useful contribution to science may be the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics invented by Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. He has worked on nuclear reactors, solid-state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics, and biology, “looking for problems where elegant mathematics could be usefully applied,” he says.

Dyson has also earned acclaim from scientists and the public for popular books such as Disturbing the Universe, Imagined Worlds, From Eros to Gaia, and The Sun, the Genome and the Internet, which discusses the question of whether modern technology could be used to narrow the gap between rich and poor rather than widen it.