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Sent to Bomber Command


Receiving a BA Degree
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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That was called a war degree. I mean everybody had a degree, even one year in college was enough: you automatically got the BA. So I got an automatic BA at the end of that year and a half.

[Q] And just to orient ourselves, by that time you actually had already written a few mathematical papers already.

Right. And these were all in number theory, and number theory was what I actually ended up doing because... although it wasn't Besicovitch's interest, but I got interested in number theory mostly from reading books, particularly Hardy and Wright's book, Introduction to the Theory of Numbers. The Hardy and Wright is a wonderful textbook and so I took problems from there, and so it wasn't so much that I worked with Hardy but I just learned from his books. And also one of the school prizes was Ramanujan's collected papers, which are wonderful, just works of art, and of course Ramanujan was a number theorist of the very most elegant kind. So I was trying to prove things that Ramanujan conjectured and so I managed, in fact, to do a couple of publishable pieces of research in number theory. Those were the first two things I did.

[Q] And you did them essentially by yourself, picking the problem as well as the solution?

Yes. That was really independent from Hardy and Littlewood.

Born in England in 1923, Freeman Dyson 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 has published several books and, among other honours, has been 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: An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers, Abram Besicovitch, GH Hardy, EM Wright, Srinivasa Ramanujan

Duration: 1 minute, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008