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Freeman Dyson the genius


'Freeman Dyson was a hero of mine'
Jeremy Bernstein Scientist
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Dyson was a hero of mine because I couldn't understand Feynman because I didn't understand the go of it. I mean, I knew about the pictures. I knew there were these pictures and I didn't know why it worked. It just drove me crazy. I just... I couldn't use it because I didn't have to use it and I just… and Schwinger I could understand, but Schwinger's calculus was so complicated. Oppenheimer once said of Schwinger when Schwinger does a calculation… he said, 'When most people do a calculation, they want to show how a problem is to be done. When Schwinger does a calculation, he wants to show that only he can do the problem'. And then there came Dyson and Dyson was like a revelation. You could understand what Schwinger did, you could understand Feynman, it was marvellous. Marvellous. I loved those papers. That Dyson did not get a Nobel Prize for this, I think is just… is an obscenity. I mean, the list of people… you know, Bockhoff didn't get a Nobel prize either but… crazy. So Dyson came to Harvard to give a series of lectures and they were all marvellous. Dyson is a wonderful lecturer, absolutely wonderful. And then my thesis advisor, Klein, wanted to talk to him about something and Dyson… we went to the office which Dyson had temporarily and Dyson was on a couch in the office. I think he was pretending to be asleep. And Klein kept talking without noticing the fact that Dyson was either… was paying no attention. He was sort of asleep. I mean, Dyson didn't want to hear. I thought that was interesting.

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: Harvard University, Freeman Dyson, Richard Feynman, Robert J Oppenheimer, Julian Schwinger, Abraham Klein

Duration: 1 minute, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: 15th June 2011

Date story went live: 28 October 2011