A brilliant yet subversive mind, Freeman Dyson is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest living scientists – even though he hasn’t considered himself a scientist in nearly 50 years. A theoretical physicist and mathematician specialising in quantum field theory and nuclear engineering, Dyson is best known for his writings on everything from number theory and random matrices to the origins of life, genetic engineering, religion, space exploration and global warming. Dyson is amazed at how we have evolved to be able to calculate differential equations and create beautiful pieces of art, when these capabilities had absolutely no survival value when we were living in caves.
Illustration Andy Gilmore
After theatrical beginnings with the then prog rock group Genesis, Peter Gabriel’s solo career has been intertwined with promoting world music, pioneering digital music technology and humanitarian work. A true renaissance man, Gabriel is as comfortable in the company of Kate Bush and Youssou N’Dour as he is with Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela or Ban Ki-moon. Gabriel is helping to create type of internet that will be accessible to some of the planet’s other intelligent species, including apes, gorillas and whales, whose eyes are pictured here.
Illustration James Joyce
How did life begin on earth? Will we one day be able to travel into the solar system in search of other life forms? Why did ET have such a long neck? Such are the questions that keep Professor André Brack awake at night. As directeur de recherche émerite at the Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire in Orléans, it is Brack’s mission in life to research the chemical basis of life as we know it and explore how this influences the search for life elsewhere. These images taken in 2005 and 2006 by the European orbiter Mars Express suggest there was water on Mars, which means that the conditions on earth when life appeared also existed on Mars.
Since the early 1970s, Gérard Garouste has set out to reinterpret traditional disciplines in painting, producing allegorical works featuring nudes, landscapes and still lifes, as well as working on sculptures, scenography and interior design. Having exhibited in New York’s Leo Castelli gallery and Fondation Cartier in Paris, Garouste has spent much of the past two decades developing La Source, a series of cultural centres for under-privileged kids. According to Garouste, the small heart of an artichoke ‘bears within it what we see in science and in the most ancient antiquity’.
Photography Ewor/Hulton Archives
Thibault Damour deals with the big issues: reality, space, time, matter, force. Professor of theoretical physics at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques near Paris, he is one of the world’s leading experts in string theory and all things that mattered to Einstein, and therefore mankind. This poster features some of the most important scientific equations of the last 300 and was inspired by the Pythagorean idea that the beautiful world of appearances is actually made of numbers.
Artwork A Practice For Everyday Life
According to Alexander Vilenkin the end of the world is, if not nigh, certainly somewhere down the line. As professor of Physics and director of the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University in Massachusetts, the Soviet-born (and one time KGB-blacklisted) Vilenkin is responsible for introducing the ideas of eternal inflation and quantum creation of the universe from nothing. The general cosmic inflation theory suggests the big bang is not a unique event, that they happen here and there in different parts of the universe, which is rapidly expanding.
Illustration James Joyce
Emeritus professor at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques near Paris, Belgian-born mathematical physicist David Ruelle is a specialist in identifying the psychological traits that characterise those with special mathematical abilities. He is also one of the few people who can tell us with a degree of certainty whether computers will one day usurp man and rule the world. Mathematician David Ruelle is fascinated by Paleolithic stone tools such as this biface hand axe. Ruelle’s specialist area of study is man’s rapport with machines and he sees this stone tool as man’s first ever machine.
Photography Trustees of the British Museum