February 29, 2020

Freeman Dyson RIP

Timothy Birdnow

Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has passed away.

Dyson was considered the heir to the intellectual fortune of Albert Einstein, as he took Einstein's former position. He worked with Richard Feynman at Cornell prior to going to Princeton. He was an icon among American physicists.

Dyson is perhaps most famous for a concept much employed in science fiction known as a Dyson Sphere. Dyson reasoned that a really advanced, space-faring civilization would require more and more energy and would begin building large solar power collectors to capture energy from their sun. Eventually they would block the entire star, capturing all of the energy being released. To an outside observer it would appear as a dark sphere radiating in the deep infrared.

Science fiction writers turned it into something else. They postulated a habitat that was a ball around a star. Gravity generators would pull everything outward, toward the stars. This would give three BILLION times the surface area of the Earth;  plenty of room to house an over-populated star system.

Of course it would always been noon. And a solar storm would be a bit of a problem, killing large swaths of the sphere with radiation. And if the gravity generators went out all hell would break loose.

Writer Dan Alderson came up with a solution for that last; build it as a kind of giant tin can and rotate it for gravity. Of course, you would need about a dozen stars to power a super rocket to spin it up to speed...

Larry Niven's Ringworld was a variation on the Dyson Sphere, and he freely acknowledged the fact.

Known for his work in quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, astronomy and nuclear engineering the English-born Dyson was
the recipient of multiple honors and medals, including the Max Planck medal and the Templeton Prize. He wrote several books on physics and science in general and philosophy of science. Read more here

Dyson was known for other things as well. He was a staunch opponent of catastrophic global warming theory, for instance, to the chagrine of many who try to claim "deniers" are anti-science or scientifically illiterate. Dyson could never be called scientifically illiterate, so they instead painted him as senile.

At any rate, he will be sorely missed. He was one of the brilliant minds of the 20th and 21st centuries.

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