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Opening the gates of mathematics


Falling in love with Russian
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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Somehow I fell in love with Russian because there was a teacher at the school - that was something that I did get from one of the teachers - a man called Leslie Russon who was primarily a French teacher, but he happened also to have a Russian wife and he knew Russian pretty well, so he gave Russian classes as part of the school curriculum, which only a few boys took. So I got interested in that and then I got... just really I fell in love with the language, and met a lady who had grown up in St. Petersburg, and so she gave me private conversation classes in Russian, which I found just fascinating and she told endless stories about St. Petersburg. Of course at that time St. Petersburg - we considered it as something very remote and historic, never dreamed that we would hear that name spoken again as attached to a living city.

[Q] And... you actually sit down and translate Vinogradov. Am I right?

That's right. Vinogradov was a Russian number theorist who wrote a book on number theory which I translated into English just for my own amusement - I still have it somewhere here on the shelf - and with loving care I went through the whole book. So I was always delighted to have not too demanding tasks to do. Just as today I love to fold pages for the Running Club newsletter, which is what I was doing this morning - it was the same with translating Vinogradov. I'd never imagined that I would publish it: it was just for fun.

[Q] But, the fact that you're now, what, 14, 15 years old, studying Vinogradov by yourself.

That was a little later. I think the Vinogradov was probably when I was 16.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Winchester College, St. Petersburg, Russia, Ivan Matveyevich Vinogradov

Duration: 2 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008