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'I had no idea if I was smart or not'
Jeremy Bernstein Scientist
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My early childhood is kind of unmemorable. I think I was cute. I was called Snookie in those days, for some reason. And I did the sort of normal things that kids of that period did. I had a bicycle and I tried skiing at one point, and the usual. A lot of outdoor things, a lot of sports and so on. I had no idea whether or not I was smart. It didn't seem relevant to anything. Unlike some people, I think especially of Freeman Dyson, my early mathematical memories are very slight. Dyson told me that when he was young enough to be put down for naps, he invented the notion of the convergent infinite series. He added a half, a quarter and so on one, and noticed it was converging to two. I suppose he was five or six when he made this observation. I do remember solving a special problem. In other words, special to me, but it's not a special problem, in which you were supposed to find a primitive racetrack which had two straight edges of known length and two semi-circular endpoints with a known radius, and you were supposed to find the length of the track, and I did that. So I must have known what pi was. I don't know how I knew it.

Born in 1929, Jeremy Bernstein is an American physicist, educator and writer known for the clarity of his writing for the lay reader on the major issues of modern physics. After graduating from Harvard University, Bernstein worked at Harvard and at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton. In 1962 he became an Associate Professor of Physics at New York University, and later a Professor of Physics at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, a position he continues to hold. He was also on the staff of The New Yorker magazine.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Freeman Dyson

Duration: 1 minute, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: 15th June 2011

Date story went live: 17 August 2011