1 memorable life: Freeman Dyson, 1923–2020
Freeman Dyson. Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Breakthrough Prize Foundation
The renowned physicist and polymath Freeman Dyson passed away near Princeton, New Jersey, on Feb. 28, at the age of 96.
Why it matters: Dyson was a dazzling scientist, but his true genius lay in his astonishing imagination, which reached for the farthest edges of the cosmos.
- In 1949, Dyson tackled one of the trickiest problems in the field: how to describe the behavior of electrons and photons.
- Dyson's insight, which came to him while riding a Greyhound bus through Nebraska, proved key to quantum electrodynamics, which the physicist Richard Feynman called the "jewel of physics."
Dyson never won a Nobel Prize for his work. He never even bothered to earn a Ph.D.
- Instead, he spent the rest of his career pursuing whatever caught his interest, migrating from atomic reactor design to nuclear bomb-powered space exploration to the mathematics of baseball.
- He achieved popular renown as a gifted scientific writer, publishing his final book in 2018 at the age of 95.
- A dedicated contrarian, later in his career he came under fire for doubting the danger of human-made climate change.
The bottom line: Few scientists can be said to have played as important a role in the making of our present than Dyson — and even fewer could so brilliantly envision the future.