This year’s winter commencement speaker, former Princeton University Prof. Freeman Dyson, was the inspiration for a classic episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
In the episode, retired engineer Scotty is found after crash-landing on an abandoned Dyson sphere, a cloud of asteroid-sized space habitats that Dyson first proposed in 1959.
Dyson spheres also famously appeared in Robert Silverberg’s novel “Across a Billion Years” and Larry Niven’s “Ringworld.”
The winter commencement ceremony will take place on Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. in Crisler Arena and Dyson’s appointment as speaker is pending formal approval by the University Board of Regents at their meeting tomorrow afternoon.
Besides being fodder for science fiction and an avid fan of the genre, Dyson is also a physicist/mathematician who has made significant contributions to the field of quantum electrodynamics and has worked on ferromagnetism, nuclear reactors and astrophysics.
Don’t forget the 81-year-old Dyson’s degree from Cambridge University and service as a civilian scientist in the Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force
And he has six children and 14 grandchildren.
And he theorized the creation of a genetically engineered tree capable of growing on a comet.
And he’s published several popular books that reflect his sense of futurism and imagination in science.
Think he’ll find anything to talk about?
But despite Dyson’s success, few University students know who he is.
Engineering senior Brian Albus said he has never heard of Dyson, but the lack of a household name as commencement speaker did not bother him.
“I didn’t really expect anything too nice because I’m graduating in December,” Albus said. “You usually get the big-name speakers when you graduate after the full year.”
John Seely Brown and David Davis were the April commencement speakers last year and the year before.
Commencement speakers are chosen from a list of University honorary degree recipients.
Along with Dyson, who will receive his 22nd honorary degree, three others are slated to receive honorary degrees pending the regents’ go-ahead.
The other three are a philanthropist, a businessman and an artist.
Commercial real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell, a University alum, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Fortune magazine wrote that Zell “controls more commercial real estate than anyone else in the country.” Zell, who attended the University both as an undergraduate and Law student, managed apartments in Ann Arbor while he was a student.
Artist Elizabeth Catlett will receive a Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Catlett is an advocate for social issues, especially civil rights. She uses her art to show the living conditions of Mexicans. Her progressive views prompted the U.S. House Committeee on Un-American Activities to investigate her in the 1950s.
Former John Hopkins University President William Richardson, now president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Battle Creek, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.