Freeman John Dyson

(b. 1923)

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(1923–) British–American theoretical physicist

The son of Sir George Dyson, director of the Royal College of Music, Dyson was born at Crowthorne and educated at Cambridge University. During World War II he worked at the headquarters of Bomber Command. In 1947 he went on a Commonwealth Fellowship to Cornell University and in 1953 joined the Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton, where he served as professor of physics until his retirement in 1994.

Dyson is best-known for his contribution to quantum electrodynamics. The observation in 1946 by Willis Lamb of a small difference between the lowest energy levels of the hydrogen atom was an experimental result against which such theories could be tested. In the period 1946–48 independent formulations of quantum electrodynamics were put forward by Julian Schwinger, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, and Richard Feynman. Dyson showed that the three methods were all consistent and brought them together into a single general theory.

Dyson later became known to a wider public through his work on the nuclear test ban treaty and for his quite serious considerations of space travel and the ‘greening of the galaxy’. He also reached a wider audience with the publication of his autobiography Disturbing the Universe (1980) and his 1985 Gifford Lectures, Infinite in All Directions (1988).

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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