Dyson, Freeman J

Tagged: Author

(1923-    ) UK-born theoretical physicist and FRS; professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, since 1953, and now a US citizen. His main work has been 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, 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 – though Dyson himself gave credit for his inspiration to Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker (1937) and proposed "Stapledon sphere" as a more appropriate term.

Dyson's theorizing has many times gone beyond his own speciality to cover topics as diverse as the Greenhouse Effect (see Climate Change), galactic Colonization, Genetic Engineering and the use of the Solar Wind for space-sailing. His many essays are a treasure trove for sf writers, some being collected in Infinite in All Directions (coll 1988). His set of autobiographical sketches, Disturbing the Universe (1979), tells entertaining tales of cognitive adventure; its intellectual audacity made it an acknowledged influence on Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix (1985). It was a student of Dyson's who made headlines in 1976 by designing a workable nuclear weapon using only published sources. [TSu/PN]

see also: Entropy; Xenobiology.

Freeman John Dyson

born Crowthorne, Berkshire: 15 December 1923

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