IN PHYSICS, 1965
Richard Feynman was born on May 11, 1918 in Brooklyn to Lucille and
Melville Feynman. Since childhood he was known for his fascination towards
science and puzzles.
He almost reinvented everything that he studied. While in school
at Far Rockaway High School in Far Rockaway, New York, rather than learning
trigonometry from the book, he reinvented all the formulas himself: he
was quite successful. On his summer job he invented a new method for carrying
many dishes at a time and to cut many beans at a time, however, not always
in this was he successful. While working on the atom bomb at Los Alamos
he figured out how to crack top-secret safes and just for amusement he
took every opportunity to open them.
He got his Bachelor of Science degree from MIT in 1939 and received
his doctorate at Princeton University in 1942.
In 1942 he got married to his childhood sweetheart, Arlene Greenbaum,
who was suffering from fatal tuberculosis of lymphatic system. In 1945
she died in the hospital. Feynman could never really get over his grief
of losing her.
Later he married Mary Louise Bell that ended in divorce. In 1960
he married for the third time to Gweneth Howarth. This marriage is believed
to be a happy relationship. He got a son out of this wedlock and adopted
Quantum theory of the electromagnetic field (of electricity and magnetism,
and of the ripples in the field that are light and X-rays & radio waves)
was a puzzle for the scientists when Richard Feynman was in college. Since
great scientists of that period could not find a satisfying theory Feynman
decided to simply ignore what they said and decided to proceed with his
own research in the field.
Years later he came up with new quantum theory (Quantum electrodynamics)
which brought him a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965. His theory has been
proved to be the most accurate scientific theory created.
Feynman was a born teacher. He felt that it was teaching that gave
him a sense of achievement and growth. He felt stagnant when he was not
teaching. He tried to bring everything to the freshman’s level. If he could
not explain some subject at that level he would admit that he has not understood
it. He was extremely honest and independent in his behavior. He enjoyed
being with undergraduate students.
In his attempt to revive the Cal-tech physics syllabus for freshmen
he produced three valuable books in a series called “Feynman’s lectures
on Physics.” By now they have become classics. In those lectures he recreated
almost everything in physics.
In 1986 he was appointed to the committee investigating the explosion
of the space shuttle ‘Challenger’. That was the real test of his independence.
Away from bureaucracy he pursued his investigation in his own way and finally
identified the problem. The night before the shuttle took off it was so
cold that the ice was built up on the shuttle. He showed publicly how rubber
loses all its resilience when dropped in iced water, which was self-explanatory.
The mathematician, Mark Kac, referred him to as a magician. Feynman
perhaps was the most famous scientist in his time. His books, his services
right from developing an atom bomb to probing into Challenger mystery made
him quite popular among people. Yet this showmanship was just an act. In
reality he was a very private person who described his Nobel Prize as a pain
in the neck as it gave him enormous publicity that started interfering
with his research life.
He was always admired for his wit, intelligence, independence and
a never-ending curiosity. He was never satisfied with what he knew and
always continued to question science. His curiosity was not restricted
to science only. Anything that puzzled him became a challenge to be solved
He was not at all possessive towards his research findings. When
he discovered that a young colleague has come with some work, which he
had done long before but never published, he allowed him to take the credit
for the research. Yet he could be insensitive and cruel to those who would
fall below his expectations. He would insult anything that was non-scientific.
He would also tease visiting lecturers. At times he was clownish and boasting.
For many undergraduates he was a fun but his colleagues had mixed reactions
about him. Although no one had a doubt about his extraordinary understanding
of physics he was often referred to as half genius and half baffoon.
Until two weeks before his death he continued to lecture in California
Institute of Technology. His last lecture was on curved space-time. Feynman
died in 1988 after a decade long battle with cancer.