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Introduction to the American way of life


Good fortune
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I arrived at Cornell in the fall of 1947, really in a very painless fashion, supported with this rather lavish Fellowship which gave me the money to live on at Cornell, plus a stipend for summer travel. They encouraged you to spend three months in the summer travelling around the 'States, and so it was intended for the sons of the aristocracy. We were supposed to be ambassadors rather than just students.  There was a rather snobbish aura attached to these Fellowships. I found it rather strange, because I came to Cornell from this very impoverished country, Britain, and found that I was better off than the American students. Most of them, the American graduate students, were really struggling and I was, compared with them, very well off. And I came across in great style on the Queen Elizabeth and I was met at the dock in New York by Hermann Bondi, who showed me around New York City.

[Q] And you had known Bondi from Cambridge?

Yes. And so every step of the way was sort of made easy for me. And later, when I got to Cornell, I read the autobiography of Michael Pupin who had come as a penniless immigrant - what was it? - 70 years earlier, and fought his way up the hard way and there was rather a glaring contrast.

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: Cornell University, Abram Besicovitch, Nicholas Kemmer, Richard Feynman

Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008