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Family relationships


Early interest in science
Freeman Dyson Scientist
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I was born '23, and I... the earliest memory, I would say, is probably '26 or '27. I do remember the total eclipse of the sun in 1927 which was an important event because my father was so mean he wouldn't actually drive north to Yorkshire to the track of totality, so we saw it only three quarters total, for which I was profoundly angry at him and vowed that I would see the next one in 1999, which is now just coming up. So that's perhaps my first memory of something of scientific interest. My father was a musician and my mother was a lawyer and... but they both of them were very much interested in current events, including science. My father had a lot of popular science books on the shelves which I read avidly, and there was a joke in Punch which I never understood why it was so funny; it was of a little kid lying engrossed in a book and  the mother says to him: 'Where's your sister?' and the little kid says: 'Oh, somewhere in the absolute elsewhere' and that was a quote from Eddington's book which I happened to be reading at the time. That was the kind of life we led, pretty... on the whole a very supportive environment for a young kid who was interested in all sorts of things.

Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), who was born in England, moved to Cornell University after graduating from Cambridge University with a BA in Mathematics. He subsequently became a professor and worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. He published several books and, among other honours, was awarded the Heineman Prize and the Royal Society's Hughes Medal.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: 1923, 1926, 1927, Yorkshire, 1999, Punch, Arthur Eddington

Duration: 1 minute, 43 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1998

Date story went live: 24 January 2008