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Dyson, Freeman J

Entry updated 3 March 2020. Tagged: Author.

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(1923-2020) UK-born theoretical physicist and FRS; professor since 1953 and later professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, and latterly a US citizen. His main work was in quantum field theory, but he is well known in sf for the concept of the Dyson Sphere, which he introduced in a short paper for Science in 1960 (vol 131 p1667). In this paper, which was concerned with locating and communicating with Extraterrestrial civilizations (see SETI), Dyson argued that any such civilization would probably be millions of years old and that Malthusian pressure would have led to its energy requirements being equal to the total output of radiation from its Star. It would therefore reconstruct its solar system so as to form an artificial system of energy collectors completely enclosing its sun – a Dyson Sphere (which see) – though Dyson himself gave credit for his inspiration to an aside in Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker (1937) and proposed "Stapledon sphere" as a more appropriate term.

Dyson's theorizing many times went beyond his own speciality to cover topics as diverse as the Greenhouse Effect (see Climate Change), galactic Colonization, Genetic Engineering, the use of the Solar Wind for space-sailing and the possibility of subjective Immortality ("eternal Intelligence"). His set of autobiographical sketches, Disturbing the Universe (coll 1979), tells entertaining tales of cognitive adventure; its intellectual audacity made it an acknowledged influence on Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix (1985). His many essays are a treasure trove for sf writers, some of the most interesting being collected in Infinite in All Directions (coll 1988). Imagined Worlds (coll 1996), based on a series of lectures, opens with a long section on fiction including sf.

It was a student of Dyson's who made headlines in 1976 by designing a workable nuclear Weapon using only published sources. [TSu/DRL]

see also: Entropy; Xenobiology.

Freeman John Dyson

born Crowthorne, Berkshire: 15 December 1923

died Princeton, New Jersey: 28 February 2020

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