back to article RIP Freeman Dyson: The super-boffin who applied his mathematical brain to nuclear magic, quantum physics, space travel, and more

Freeman Dyson, the eminent British-American physicist and mathematician best known for his theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics, died today. He was 96. His death was announced by his daughter Mia Dyson via Maine public television and the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) – the top research hub in Princeton, New Jersey, …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    RIP to an amazing mind and man. He lived in interesting times.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Never mind living in them, he helped make them interesting. RIP indeed.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      agreed, sad to see him go. Even sadder (to see him go that is), he was apparently an anthropogenic climate change skeptic...

      DEFINITELY even MORE sad to see him go. The world's average IQ probably went down a point.

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        agreed, sad to see him go. Even sadder (to see him go that is), he was apparently an anthropogenic climate change skeptic...

        No he wasn't, although unfortunately his name was bandied around by those who want to legitimize their beliefs. What he believed was global warming would not necessarily result in worldwide disaster. Probably understandable within the context of a man who felt that any problem could be solved with enough application of resources and human intelligence, but not necessarily a great one for those left behind.

        1. ToddRundgrensUtopia

          He wasn't a climate skeptic but believed CO2 isn't a major factor

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQHhDxRuTkI

  2. CountCadaver Bronze badge

    RIP, shame it came to such an ignomious end for such a great man.

    Imagine trying to replicate his life now, unless the cards were in your favour heavily...

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Nothing ignomious

      in dying at 96 among those who love and respect you.

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        Re: Nothing ignomious

        True, but I think the commentator was referring to the fact that he didn't die of "old age", but from an accident, which has got be rather galling.

        1. Twanky Bronze badge

          ...he didn't die of "old age"...

          He sounds like a wonderful person - as well as having a great mind.

          My mother died of 'old age' - it says so on the death certificate. That's an ignominious death.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ...he didn't die of "old age"...

            My mother died of 'old age' - it says so on the death certificate. That's an ignominious death.

            I wouldn't agree, not at that age. When my Gran died a few months past her 100th birthday my Mum said that "old age" as the cause of death was very comforting, it just reflected the way life was supposed to be. A cause of death from some disease or accident would have been distressing, but there's nothing ignominious about living your life fully until its natural end.

            1. Ian Johnston

              Re: ...he didn't die of "old age"...

              When my Gran died a few months past her 100th birthday my Mum said that "old age" as the cause of death was very comforting, it just reflected the way life was supposed to be.

              Mine went at 101.5, and had "extreme old age" as the cause of death. We rather liked that.

        2. Archtech Silver badge

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          Had he fallen in the same way when 16, 26 or even 66, it might have done him little harm. At 96 the bones are fragile and it takes only a small trauma to push the whole system over the edge.

        3. Paul Herber Silver badge

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          would have been worse if he'd tripped over a vacuum cleaner!

          1. Steve K Silver badge

            Re: Nothing ignomious

            Yes - Dyson with death indeed....

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Nothing ignomious

            That would just suck.

        4. keithpeter
          Coat

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          Alas, falls of any kind when you are over 80 or so can be serious. I know this from experience with family members. It is part of the 'old age' experience.

          Robotic exoskeletons?

          Coat: mine's the one with a copy of Disturbing the Universe in the pocket. His generation basically invented operations reseach (sort of a gap year project during ww2)

        5. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          I'm 54 and have fallen over while running and walking recently. All I suffered were skinned knees and hands and hurt pride. Oh and I put a hole in my good black trousers. My life was not in danger.

          Freeman Dyson died from injuries suffered in a fall. Muscle strength declines with age even though the rate of decline slows if you make, strenuous, efforts to keep your muscles up. When you fall in age you often fall badly, unable to catch yourself. This causes breaks and head injuries which can be fatal. Broken bones sometimes release KCl into the blood which can affect the heart and brain. The risk of this being fatal rises with age.

          I have fallen in recent years without catching myself, running on slick concrete pavers in worn street shoes. Trying to round a corner my feet went out from under me and I went down, hands by my sides as if I'd been poleaxed. I smacked face first into one of those concrete pavers. Falling from my 6' height with the momentum of running. My long straight nose came to the rescue and all I did was break it, again. Though it hurt so much I lost vision for some seconds.

          But if I'd fallen to the side or slipped over backwards things might have been rather different. No crash barrier nose to cusion the blow on the skull. When you fall inside there are lots of things you can hit your head on.

          You have to die of something, to get to 96 he would need a good immune system so disease was unlikely to get him. So injury was it.

          I have told my wife and kids that dying from an aneurism say whilst runing (my heart appears bulletproof) would be a good way to go for me and they shouldn't beat themselves up if it happens. I will have died doing something I love. Freeman Dyson died trying to go to the office, at 96. He died trying to do something he clearly loved. No sitting around in a retirement home mumbling for Freeman. What a guy.

        6. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          I saw an aging character (one of the musketeers) say, in a movie, "I'd rather die in battle than in bed, in a pool of my own piss". Or something like that.

          The fact that he was going to/from his old office at the time, apparently thinking about stuff and/or doing sciency things with his time, sorta the same as a warrior dying in battle...

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          A slip and fall - like any random event, almost quantum. Seems quite appropriate.

        8. John Jennings

          Re: Nothing ignomious

          Many more accidents at that age are fatal. You could argue that he may well have died of old age. I am sure Dyson knew the risks - he might have developed a formula for it.

          One of the greatest minds of the 20th C.

  3. Mephistro Silver badge

    One of the most talented scientists in history and also a nice person.

    Godspeed, Mr. Dyson.

  4. jason 7 Silver badge

    Wow!

    His work and mind intrigued me!

    Project Orion FTW!!!!!

  5. Cederic Silver badge

    accidentally fell

    He probably wanted it to be physics that got him in the end.

  6. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    RIP

    May he walk freely among the stars he loved so much.

  7. DanceMan
    Thumb Up

    Watch the video

    Fascinating comments about WWII at the beginning and about nuclear energy near the end. Kudos for including that.

  8. Forget It
    Coat

    "In Praise of Divinity"

    A Gifford Lecture by Dyson 1985

    https://www.giffordlectures.org/lectures/praise-divinity

    begins

    I chose the title "In Praise of Divinity" partly because it expresses my attitude to the universe and partly because it describes my style of thinking and writing

  9. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    In other news...

    ... first flight of SpaceX Starship SN01 (video).

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: In other news...

      Damn! You got me there! I read your comment and my first thought was "shit, how did I miss that?" Then I clicked the link :-)

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: In other news...

        I read the notice to airmen and was confused because SN01 was obviously not ready to fly. It needed cryo-hardening and a pressure test. Clearly they tried to do both at once with liquid nitrogen and the notice to airmen was in case the pressure test got ahead of the cryo-hardening and a boiling nitrogen propelled rocket took off.

        There is plenty to smile about. The rings were in good shape while they were being welded together but the welds shrank as they cooled so SN01 was nothing like as strong as planned. At best it would have done an up and down like star hopper. It looks like they fixed the weld shrinking problem with pieces of SN02 - most of which is on site, including the wings. SN02 might well go up, come down sideways and do a belly flip before landing - or do a spectacular RUD. 301 stainless is cheap to buy, quick to weld and scrap has recycle value so Starship development can race along with entertaining explosions without costing 0.01% of an SLS.

  10. BebopWeBop Silver badge

    ‘Entangled’ is a good summary....

  11. ClockworkOwl
    Boffin

    A sad passing, but another legend is sure to have been born...

    The couple of generations of physicists and general scientific thinkers he belonged to has totally transformed science. I was going to start a list of names, but it's futile, there's too many.

    There seems to have been an almost 'critical mass' of thinking going on, all round the world.

    From Einsteins' work on the photoelectric effect presaging quantum theory, to Gell Manns' 'Eightfold way' leading to Quantum Chromodynamics. In less than 50 years!!!

    Sadly there are not too many of those generations left, fortunately they were seriously inspiring.

    Hope your finding all the good company again...

    1. Benson's Cycle

      I'm afraid you are wrong, but in an overly pessimistic way.

      The 19th century saw enormous scientific and technological progress. When it started, steam engines were mostly atmospheric and all ships relied on sails. When it ended, not only had biology been revolutionised by Darwin and Mendel, but the electric motor had gone from a toy to a major power transformation method, the telephone was spreading, the reciprocating high pressure steam engine was already in competition with the steam turbine, coal was being replaced with oil, thermodynamics were on a sound footing, the atomic theory was solid and theoretical chemistry was well advanced, the germ theory of disease was established, and the electric light bulb was already well developed (and the technologies needed made the X-ray tube, the CRT, and the thermionic valve possible, thus making possible the results that Einstein would explain). Michelson and Morley had laid the aether to rest and thereby created another problem for Einstein to solve, the photographic process was fully established thus creating the conditions for the discovery of radioactivity, and Babbage and Ada Lovelace had laid the foundations for stored program computing. Whitworth had demonstrated the importance of precision instruments and machine tools by mid-century and laid the foundations not only for motor vehicles of all kinds, but of precision experimental apparatus.

      Given a much smaller educated world population in the 19th century*, their achievements were all the more remarkable.

      Not to knock Dyson in any way, but the idea that the first half of the 20th century somehow transformed science is just bunk. It built on a past which, in just a century, had changed the understanding of the world out of all recognition and provided the power and engineering that would make new discoveries possible.

      *Universal primary education was another Victorian development, along with the sewage systems that increased infant life expectancy enough to make it worthwhile.

      1. keithpeter

        Couple of more names for your 19th Century chronicle

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyapunov_stability

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Poincar%C3%A9

        Dynamical systems basically. Just how many times has negative feedback been invented? (Steam engine governor onwards)

        1. Benson's Cycle

          Yup. Poincaré in particular, and Ernst Mach is another one I should have mentioned. If I bothered to go back to my books (my history hobby is that of technology from about 1830 -1930) I could add an awful lot more. The fact is that the 19th century - particularly in England and Germany - laid the foundations of the modern world, though whether or not that's a good thing is a matter of opinion.

        2. asdf Silver badge

          Maxwell was the greatest scientist of the 19th century and its not even close. An strong argument can could be made he was just as important as Einstein to the history of science overall.

          1. asdf Silver badge

            Maybe its implied but half that stuff listed above for the advancements in the 19th century was directly due to Maxwell's work. Dude rarely gets his dues.

          2. Benson's Cycle
            Facepalm

            I agree - how did I forget Maxwell?

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Coat

              Not enough coffee?

              It's ok, I've got my coat...

      2. ClockworkOwl

        You appear to have missed the point...

        All the Victorian discovery also needed all the developments before it as well.

        However, thermodynamics was the main physics cannon at that time, other aspects were mainly "interesting oddities" like the aether drift experiment etc.

        I suggest looking at a university physics text book from before the turn of the century, and compare with a 1040s version. There's an order of magnitude more topics and depth.

        Sure the Victorians were clever engineers,and there were a few early scientists, but the likes of Nicola Tesla never really followed the scientific method.

        So the idea the the first half of the 20th century transformed science is actually unarguable, only the rosiest of tinted spectacles would see the last half of the 19th as having been more important...

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Boffin

          To see how wrong you are really takes only one word: Maxwell.

          But actually that gives the wrong impression. In particular your claim that

          the Victorians were clever engineers,and there were a few early scientists

          Is so wrong that it's hard to know where to start.

          1. ClockworkOwl

            Prove it, show me a published peer reviewed physics paper from before 1880...

            Maxwell was a mathematician, along with so many truly insightful victorians and earlier.

            I'm not denigrating anyone here, but they come from the age where real science was still rare and poorly understood. They were the first to mostly deny rumour and opinion, but still lacked the scientific method.

            So not wrong at all...

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Mushroom

              Maxwell was a mathematician, along with so many truly insightful victorians and earlier

              Oh for fuck's sake stop being an idiot. Maxwell was the person who sorted out classical electromagnetism. He's the person of whom Feynman said

              From the long view of this history of mankind – seen from, say, 10,000 years from now – there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwell's discovery of the laws of electromagnetism.

              The paper in which he introduced the theory, A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field was read at the FRS in 1864 and then peer-reviewed by William Thomson (oh, look, another famous 19th century physicist!) before being published in 1865 as A dynamical theory of the electromagnetic field. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 155: 459–512. You can read it here.

              So, are you going to now argue that the classical electrodynamics is somehow not physics? What on earth was the course I did in my second year of my physics degree called 'classical electromagnetism' about then?

              OK, you're free to make yourself look like a fool in public if you like, but I'm done here: arguing with fools is a waste of time I could spend arguing with people who aren't.

        2. Ian Johnston

          I suggest looking at a university physics text book from before the turn of the century, and compare with a 1040s version. There's an order of magnitude more topics and depth.

          There is more to science than physics, though nobody dares tell the physicists that.

          1. asdf Silver badge

            >There is more to science than physics, though nobody dares tell the physicists that.

            And what Darwin did was very important for sure but he only finally published because someone else had already figured out his big idea. Some discoveries are huge for sure but often would have been found by peer scientists in short order anyway. Even in biology things like protein folding are based on physics.

        3. Ian Johnston

          Sure the Victorians were clever engineers,and there were a few early scientists, but the likes of Nicola Tesla never really followed the scientific method.

          Tesla was - initially anyway - a good engineer but a lousy scientist. If he had taken the time to read and understand Maxwell's work from fifty years earlier he would never have wasted the time and money he did on Wardenclyffe Tower.

        4. ma1010 Silver badge
          Coat

          Don't be so harsh

          on the Saxons.

          I suggest looking at a university physics text book from before the turn of the century, and compare with a 1040s version.

          Really, the 1040's was before even the Doomesday Book was compiled, much less Newton, etc.

    2. asdf Silver badge

      Also giving short shrift to the mid and 2nd half of the 20th century as well. Antibiotics, plastics and transistors were just as much game changers in history of our species as anything early 20th century or indeed all of human history.

      1. ClockworkOwl

        All based on early 20th century science...

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          All science is based on earlier science. If we had to reinvent everything from scratch all the time, we'd never get anywhere. Remember that thing about standing on the shoulders of giants? It actually dates back to at least the 12th century, and was repeated many times before Newton made the quote that is best known today. Arguing about who was the greatest scientist based on whether later work relies on them or not is completely pointless. It always does, and that has been well understood by the scientists themselves for centuries (and most likely much longer). A statement that more recent science is based on older science is at best a banal tautology, and unfortunately more commonly a sad attempt to denigrate those who have had the sense to learn from others just because someone wants to play Top Trumps with famous scientists.

          1. asdf Silver badge

            Yeah I am not preferring one era over another to be honest. Great thinkers in all of them was my point. Some just had better PR :P .

  12. Trollslayer Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Eternal graduate

    I like that!

  13. davcefai

    Ringworld

    Please don't forget the concept of the Dyson Sphere and the Ringworld which has given so many of us so many hours of fun and fascination.

    1. Benson's Cycle

      Re: Ringworld

      Actually both are things he'd probably not want to be remembered for. Embarrassing to be associated with two ideas that wouldn't work; I believe he himself later on said the Dyson sphere wasn't possible. Larry Niven's Ringworld depends on magical unobtainium to get from one side to the other, and his proposed method of stabilising it would set up oscillations, which wouldn't be fun.

      Both are reminders of how over-optimistic scientists and engineers got post-Bomb, when it seemed endless energy was readily available, but computer modelling hadn't caught up with just how difficult it was going to be to do complex things.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ringworld

        Yes and no. Knowing how to do the math and having the ambition to ask questions is of high value. Even if you find out it's impossible.

        Types of dyson swarms might be possible though IIRC (no orbitals are 100% perfect, but that applies to all 2 or 3 body and more systems. :P ).

      2. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

        Re: Ringworld

        I quite beg to differ in that people say that a Dyson Sphere (aka Dyson Shells) WOULD NOT WORK!

        They CAN work very well when solid blocks of material made out of ceramic-coated steels and/or tungsten are used as the base structural element and then kept together on a segment-by-segment basis by spring-like carbon nano-tube cross-beam structures on the 2D-XY axis (i.e. the sides) and Z axis (i.e. vertical or depth axis) that act like shock absorbers keeping whole arrays/tiles of Dyson Blocks uniformly together to form the greater Dyson Shell. The individual segments STILL have spacing in-between them but those individual segments are large enough that massive amounts of living space is available for inhabitants.

        We've done the engineering MATH and the simulations on just such a structure that is Earth Orbit in size and the ONLY issues we had was noticing that the Dyson Shell we humans CAN construct in less than a few hundred years needs to be multi-layered with multiple INNER LAYERS that absorb and convert all the incoming solar radiation of many EM bands into usable forms of thermal and electrical energy.

        The OTHER issue was calculating HOW to form and place numerous BLOCKS of Tungsten and/or Steel in such a way that the outer layers would have enough mass to exert ONE GRAVITY on the inhabitants. The multiple layers of blocks would be held somewhat evenly outwards (i.e. the Z axis) into a pressure shell similar to that of a balloon by the outwards rush of solar radiation coming from the interior star.

        Those layered blocks of about 100 km by 100 km in area and being about 10 km thick and held vertically about 500-to-1000 km apart from each other are held in a somewhat loose configuration on the X and Y axis by spring-like carbon nanotube structures that would allow expansion and contraction between layers AND would allow those blocks to have enough total AGGREGATE MASS such that the outer layers would be equal to one full gravity for free-standing human habitation and be able to hold a enough human breathable atmosphere on the outer surface of each block of tungsten and/or steel.

        Freeman Dyson simply DID NOT HAVE ACCESS to the massive supercomputing horsepower we have today, so he was NOT ABLE to expound and expand upon his theories out to the actual mechanical engineering that would be required to build an Earth orbit sized Dyson Shell.

        By keeping individual blocks to 100 km by 100 km (10,000 square km) in area, it allows enormous amounts of living space to be made available for the average human AND such small block sizes allow the Dyson Shell to be FLEXIBLE enough that the typically chaotic emissions of the interior star allows the Dyson Shell segments to move in a wave-like fashion much like a raft of boats tied together on a moving ocean.

        Since all the Dyson Shell segments are LINKED together by the carbon Nanotube shock-absorption system, it is then possible to use advanced computer control to use "rocket engines" that are attached to each axis of every segment so as to take into account and manage the concentric orbit and oscillations of the interior star so that the entire Dyson Shell flexes and moves along with the star, keeping it centred within the Dyson Shell.

        All this has been PROVEN to be workable on our computing systems, so Freeman Dyson HAD IT RIGHT! A Dyson Sphere IS DEFINITELY POSSIBLE with current 2020-era human computing and materials engineering technology!

        We can GET quintillions of tonnes of steel and/or tungsten from multiple metal rich dying or exploded stars and construct those massive Dyson Shell segments held loosely by carbon nanotubes if enough people are employed in building it. Give us 3 BILLION workers and we can finish an Earth orbit sized Dyson Sphere in 250 years!

        For a 100 layer Segmented Dyson Shell with each layer separate by 500-to-1000 km on the vertical and about 50 km on the X and Y axis, the AVERAGE area would be about 280,000,000,000,000,000 square KM per layer. (i.e. 280 Quintillion Square KM)

        Of the 100 layers, the lower 75 would have to designated for solar radiation energy conversion purposes and for society's factories / manufacturing facilities because of low gravity and excessive solar radiation exposures.

        The OUTER 25 layers would have enough total aggregate gravitational pull coming from the inner layers of steel and/or tungsten segment blocks to have outer surface gravities of between 1.0 to 1.3 of Earth's surface gravity which is enough to hold a breathable atmosphere onto each of the individual segment surfaces.

        That means the total living space for the outer 25 layers would be 7,000,000,000,000,000,000 square KM and with our current Year 2020 human population of about 7.8 billion people, that means EVERY SINGLE PERSON ON EARTH could have 897,435,897 square KM of living space all to themselves within the Dyson Sphere.

        .

        SO YES !!! Dyson Spheres CAN be built if we have access to enough building materials coming from dead metal rich stars !!!

        .

      3. Ian Johnston

        Re: Ringworld

        Both are reminders of how over-optimistic scientists and engineers got post-Bomb, when it seemed endless energy was readily available, but computer modelling hadn't caught up with just how difficult it was going to be to do complex things.

        And a direct precursor of today's belief that algorithms can solve all human problems.

        1. StargateSg7 Bronze badge

          Re: Ringworld

          "....And a direct precursor of today's belief that algorithms can solve all human problems....."

          ---

          Actually, computer simulations and algorithmic technical specification derivation and/or extension CAN SOLVE MOST of humanity's problems that are technical rather than political or social in nature!

          Can we build and MANAGE a Dyson Sphere? YES!

          Can we solve world hunger using computer-based plant growing technology? YES!

          Can we build a new super-strong, computer-algorithm-calculated frame for a Bicycle? OH YES!

          Can we stop people from drinking too much alcohol or doing too much drugs using computers? NAH!

          Cuz that's a SOCIAL problem that can be modeled in cyberspace but not RUN PERFECTLY by real people in the real world because EACH REAL WORLD PERSON has their own foibles and quirks not easily controlled as a variable!

          Algorithms SHOULD be used for the situations which have actual controllable variables like gene splicing and mechanical engineering where inputs values are and can be constrained, NOT for social activities that have faaaaaar too many personal interactions and emotional inputs from too many surrounding persons. It's too hard to CURRENTLY model and/or control simply because you cannot constrain/control enough of the varying input values!

          Ergo, leave human social issues to the personal-feelings-psychologists and leave Dyson Sphere engineering and management to the rules-based-expert-system Algorithms!

          .

      4. Dapprman

        Re: Ringworld

        Must be remembered that when Larry Niven wrote Ringworld the actual ring was a plot location. It was Jerry Pournelle (amongst others) who was working at NASA at the time and put the scientific theory behind how it could work.

  14. macjules Silver badge

    "Although he is only 23 he is in my view the best mathematician in England."

    Quoted from my great uncle (GI Taylor). RIP Mr Dyson.

  15. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Orion

    Hi, I'm sure the great man would rather have seen the stockpiles of plutonium used to help deflect the next Doomsday asteroid.

    Orion in the context of compressed-liner fusion *may* work but at a pinch setting off multiple low yield warheads en route with an Ir alloy pusher plate to ensure a fast intercept would be possible. I did some BOTE calculations suggesting a berkelium enrichment reactor based on one from a nuclear submarine would permit warheads to be made about once ever 2.5 days with a "Coke can" sized pulse unit and external pulsed laser based trigger for safety with 5*100MT warheads for deflection.

    Even got as far as designing one with a 90 ton yield which is the lower end of feasibility but unable to test due to entirely avoidable politics.

  16. tfb Silver badge
    Boffin

    It's better to get mugged

    than to live a life of fear

    1. Eclectic Man

      Re: It's better to get mugged

      Actually, once you have been mugged, you live in fear for quite a while, unless the muggers get caught.

  17. MrMerrymaker

    Dirty nuke myth

    "If the United States gets attacked with a nuclear weapon, it won’t be from a government at all, but it will be a bunch of bad guys carrying a weapon in a suitcase or in a car or in a truck or something of that kind. You won’t even know where it comes from. "

    While I agree with the sentiment, it's a shame such a vaunted genius is perpetuating the myth of the suitcase nuke or dirty bomb.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dirty nuke myth

      no myth: https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/30/the-littlest-boy/

  18. Trixr

    Shame that his later years were somewhat less sparkling regarding his confusing and well-promoted views on climate change - a classic example of poorly informed opinions co-opted by those whose agendas the confusion supported.

    But it still doesn't overshadow the amazing contributions he made to mathematics and physics for many decades.

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Yes, it would be interesting to know where he went wrong with that. It is an unfortunately-sometime-true stereotype that old physicists tend to think they can just wade in to other fields and understand them (there's even at least one xkcd) when it turns out they can't. There are also standard mistakes physicists make when trying to understand the greenhouse effect using spherical-cow approximations, the most common (which I have made!) being 'well, there's so much CO2 already that the atmosphere is already opaque at the wavelengths it blocks, so more can't make any real difference': the first part of this is true, the second isn't.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    lots of ideas not all good.

    Sounds like a great guy. Shame that suitcase nuclear bomb theory has be used by the bigwigs in the pentagon as an excuse to inflict suffering on various nations over the years.

    I bet the USA is still puzzling how to make its own suitcase nuclear bomb. A real one not one like those seen in every other film.

    Sometimes you wonder if these paranoid specimens get mixed up one day doing their super forcasting after an nights movie viewing.

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: lots of ideas not all good.

      The W54 won't fit in a suitcase, but you can carry them in a (fairly large) backpack: they weigh about 23kg according to Wikipedia. Such a thing is certainly very portable by car, for instance.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: lots of ideas not all good.

        It was once believed that "Red Mercury" was actually a codename for lithium deuteride.

        A true "suitcase" physics package would be nearly impossible but the W45 used very highly enriched materials that made its half life quite short. They were all reprocessed a long time ago.

        Seems that some of the W45 components did get recycled though.

        A pure fusion device may be possible but even less portable than that: minimum estimates would be 800-1200 kilos for a 0.2MT yield.

  20. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    RIP Freeman

    Thanks for a great many insights and ideas and mind melting mathematics. It's a shame that his frail body let down his brilliant mind, but 96 is a good innings. I grew up reading of Dyson Spheres and Dyson Trees and their spin-offs (Niven Rings, Integral Trees, etc.) in SciFi.

  21. Eclectic Man

    "Disturbing the Universe "

    Is the title of his autobiography, well worth a read. Not as funny or peculiar as Feynman's "Surely you're joking Mr Feynman" or "What do you care what other people think?", but worth a read.

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