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AUB was honored to host a talk
by renowned physicist and public intellectual Freeman Dyson on November 15, 2018 in the university’s New York City offices. President Fadlo Khuri also presented Dyson with AUB’s inaugural Science and Humanism Award. Dyson’s talk, “Biological and Cultural Evolution: Six Characters in Search of an Author,” introduced the audience to six people that have advanced the field of science throughout history.
Dyson's lecture charted our understanding of where we came from and
where we are going through the discoveries and observations of the six
individuals. The scientists he highlighted were Charles
Darwin, the naturalist who proposed the theory of evolution; Motoo Kimura, who
proposed the neutral theory of molecular evolution; Ursula Goodenough, a
leading religious naturalist; the novelist H.G. Wells; advocate of
gene-and-meme centered evolution Richard Dawkins; and Svante Pääbo, a founder
of paleogenetics whose research suggests that humans mated with Neanderthals.
At the ceremony to honor and thank Dyson, Dr. Khuri explained the choice of the physicist as the first recipient of the award.
“AUB has a particular interest in a scientist’s contributions to both science and to society, and we developed our Presidential Science and Humanism Award recognizing professional research and personal example that reflect AUB’s cross-cultural, multidisciplinary legacy and mission. The award emphasizes dynamic scholarship that challenges and expands established boundaries, highlighting the quest for humankind’s self-preservation, dignity, and spirit of respectful engagement among people everywhere.
“Professor Dyson embodies this award. His scientific inquiries have enlightened generations of men and women about the mystery and order of our universe, while his personal example inspires them and their nations to be guided by humanistic values. He has ventured towards distant galaxies to explore the nature of the Cosmos, but also marvels at the beauty in trees, birds, and violins. He stretched the boundaries of knowledge in mathematics, quantum electrodynamics, astrophysics, and other scientific arenas, while simultaneously exploring the mysteries of faith, ethics, and human nature. The techniques he used in physics form the foundation for most modern theoretical work in elementary particle physics and the quantum many-body problem. He has made highly original and important contributions to an astonishing range of topics, from number theory to adaptive optics.”
Now retired, Dyson spent most of his career as a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University. Born in England, he served as a scientist for the Royal Air Force during World War II. After receiving his BA in mathematics from Cambridge University, Dyson moved to the US to pursue graduate studies at Cornell University, where he was made a professor even though he did not have a PhD. In 1954, he moved to Princeton and went on to write a number of books on science for the general public. His most impactful contribution to science was the unification of the three versions of quantum electrodynamics.
During the ceremony, President Khuri said of him: “I am deeply honored to present AUB’s first Presidential Science and Humanism Award to Freeman Dyson and trust that AUB will continue to live up to the example he has set for us as an academician, thinker, challenger of the status quo, and public intellectual.”