Richard Feynman

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(The following is the relevant excerpt from a physics report I had to do... I got an 'A' )


"My father taught me continuity and harmony in the world. He didn't know anything exactly, whether the insect had eight legs or a hundred legs, but he understood everything. And I was interested because there was always a this kick at the end--a revelation of how wonderful nature really is."

- Richard Feynman

Richard Phillips Feynman was born on May 11th, 1918, in New York, New York to Melville Arthur Feynman and Lucille Phillips Feynman, a sales manager and a homemaker, respectively. Apparently, from the sources I found that nothing is known about Feynman's childhood except for his love of math from diaper days and the fact that he had managed to tech himself calculus by the age of eighteen. So, we'll just start with his frat days. He earned his bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939, and three years later, in 1942, received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

During the time that he worked up to his bachelor's degree, he worked as a scientist at the Frankfort Arsenal in Pennsylvania. Somehow he found the time for extra-curricular activities between school and work, evidenced by the fact that he found time to marry Arleene H. Greenbaum in 1941. A marriage that did not presumably last that long, due to the fact that one of the participants died a relatively short time after.

After he left work at Frankfort Arsenal, he went on to, ah, blow more stuff up, except this time; he'd do it on the atomic level. Yeah, you guessed it, he went to work for the Manhattan Project. He left after a year and went to work at Los Alamos N.M. (along with such notables as Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi,) as the group leader for a full three years. For about 42 years he worked as a professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University and Cal-Tech (in that order) with a short stint of teaching in Brazil.

During and in between his time teaching, he fell in love again and married Mary Lou Bell, who later divorced him. Finally he found a girl in 1960 who was just about physicist-proof: Gweneth Howarth, with whom he had two children: Carl and Michelle.

During the 60's he served on the State Curriculum Commission, and served on the presidential commission investigating the 1986 challenger disaster. It should be noted that within this time he won the shared Nobel Prize for physics with Julian Shwinger and Sin Itiro Tomonago for their contributions to the general pool of knowledge of electrodynamics.

When he died in 1988 in LA, California of Abdominal cancer, he left us numerable scientific works as well as two memoirs. The first, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (1985) A portrayal of himself in light of his scientific achievements, his work at Los Alamos, (Where he developed the name "Feynman the Safecracker" due to his hacker-like ability of getting around the facility's exacting security measures.) as well as anecdotes concerning his bongo-drumming, gambling, skirt-chasing self when he wasn't working, as well as a mention of what it was like to earn a Nobel Prize. His second memoir, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?" illustrated a more solemn side in which he explored his feelings in earnest about man and the limitations of science; both natural and what man himself imposes on it. He was indeed well known for his moralistic standings on the applications of science also.



-Feynman's answer to the psychiatric question "How much do you value your life?"

Richard Feynman is probably best noted for his contributions to the joining of relativity and quantum theory with electromagnetism to form quantum electromechanics: a field that studies the interaction of subatomic particles. Now, this whole thing he had going seemed valid enough, but there was difficulty with justifying, explaining, and anticipating the results in the lab. Feynman, being the person he was, developed Feynman Diagrams1 to explain the phenomenon he and his colleagues were witnessing. The diagrams illustrate possible outcomes of a reaction by using deceptively simple-looking squiggly lines and arrows. Many other scientists started to catch on to the ease of this brand of diagram, and they soon found many and sundry uses for them.

During his work at the California Institute of Technology, he developed theories accounting for the behavior of low-temperature helium (does it still make your voice sound funny?), conducted research on radioactivity (that got glowing reviews), and investigated the composition of the atom's nucleus. The last item, in particular, spawned some pretty interesting stuff. They concluded that even nucleic particles are made up of something; and these somethings are the smallest unit of matter: quarks2, this is an extremely rational concept that is fundamental to quantum physics, but makes sense to almost no one.

His work on the Challenger disaster was just a tad more down to earth. (Excuse the terrible pun) The first official explanation for the Challenger blowing up was because of, duh, a problem with the highly explosive rocket fuel. Memorably, on national TV, he demonstrated what probably went wrong. He cooled a sample of the rubber booster seal by drooping it into his glass of ice water in front of him, thus simulating the near-freezing temperatures of the upper atmosphere. When he squeezed the now chilled rubber with a clamp, it cracked, proving it not near resilient enough to be safe for space travel. He continued to hound NASA for it's lack of heed to warning signals and it's underestimation of risks involved in space flight.

1 No, he didn't name them himself…2But if quarks are the smallest unit of matter then there has to be something they're made up of because nothing has nothing for content because then it would indeed be nothing made up of nothing and, oh dear, I've gone cross-eyed again…

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