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Work in pure mathematics while at Imperial College


Sinecure at Imperial College
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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So I then, through Smeed's - he was my boss, he was very efficient in finding his people jobs - he found me a job at Imperial College in London. Within a couple of weeks I was there as a demonstrator in mathematics, and had a good year at Imperial College, nominally teaching mathematics, actually doing essentially anything I wanted. It was really a sinecure, because Imperial College was still more or less dead. There were hardly any students and... so I did some grading of papers. I never gave any classes, and in the meantime...

[Q] And who was there in mathematics at that stage?

Well, my nominal boss was Hyman Levy.

[Q] Probability?

No, not the same, that's a French Levy. Hyman Levy was also a communist who was famous more for his politics than his mathematics, and he believed in mathematics for the workers, and he was a very sweet fellow, but he never gave me anything to do.

[Q] So you could do what you wanted.

Yes; I mean he said, quite frankly, I was there simply because there was nothing more useful that I could do; it was better staying there than sitting around at Bomber Command.

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: Imperial College, London, RAF Bomber Command, Hyman Levy

Duration: 1 minute, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008