Richard Feynman

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There was a very fine man of science.
The poetry of reality

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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
—Richard Feynman

Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist known as one of the best and brightest practitioners of quantum mechanics and for playing the bongo drums.[1] For his work on quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, together with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga.[2]

Contents

[edit] Career and Contributions

For his doctoral dissertation published in 1942, Richard Feynman created the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, starting from the Lagrangian formalism laid out by Paul Dirac in 1932. For his own dissertation, submitted in 1925, Dirac introduced the Hamiltonian formalism, which he showed to be fully equivalent to the matrix mechanics of Max Born, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, and Werner Heisenberg, and the wave mechanics of Erwin Schrödinger. For a very long time, the Lagrangian formalism was neglected as most physicists stuck to one of the above approaches to quantum theory. After showing that, not surprisingly, the Lagrangian formalism reproduces Schrödinger's equation (up to a constant of integration), Feynman realized that the Lagrangian formalism provided a number of crucial insights into the nature of the quantum world. In classical mechanics, Lagrange's formulation yields equations of motion whose solutions specify a unique trajectory for the object, the one demanded by Newton's laws. In the quantum regime, a particle tries out all possible trajectory, each with is own probability determined by a set of rules devised by Feynman. This is the essence of the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics. Feynman later used this to develop his own version of the quantum theory of electromagnetism, better known as quantum electrodynamics, which he completed in 1948. During this process, he developed a way to understand the behavior of subatomic particles using pictorial tools that later became known as Feynman diagrams.[3]

During World War II, Feynman participated in the development of the atomic bomb, where his uncanny knowledge of mathematical tricks were of immense value. He was credited with the discovery of a potentially deadly safety issue that people overlooked.[3] He exposed an early instance of security theatre at the Manhattan Project, where researchers kept classified papers in combination-locked file drawers with a number of vulnerabilities. The "solution" was not to provide more secure document storage, but to "keep Feynman away from your file cabinet."

During the post-war decades, Feynman explored the physics of superfluidity (an example being supercooled liquid helium), elementary particles, and played the bongo drums.[4] Despite his prolific contributions, Feynman wrote only 37 research papers during his entire career. Much of his work, e.g. quantum field theory and gravitation, were not published in a formal manner; he simply studied physics for the fun of it. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman is credited with the concept and early exploration of quantum computing, and publicly envisioning nanotechnology, creation of devices at the molecular scale. He held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at Caltech.[5]

Feynman was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster[6].

[edit] Feynman presentations

Feynman was a keen and influential populariser of physics in both his books and lectures, notably a seminal 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" and The Feynman Lectures on Physics, a three-volume set which has become a classic text. Transcripts are okay, but you need to see the actual videos to see what a good and clear lecturer in physics looks and sounds like. And all this in an accent like a Brooklyn cab driver. Go to YouTube and search on "Feynman". Doing so will make immediately obvious why he is still posthumously called "The Great Explainer". If you are interested, The Feynmann Lectures in Physics are still of great value today. You can get legal and free copies online. Known for his insatiable curiosity, wit, brilliant mind, and playful temperament, he is equally famous for his many adventures, detailed in his books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?

[edit] Feynman and skepticism

"Cargo cult science" is a term perhaps best known because of a 1974 speech of the same name by Feynman at a Caltech commencement[7], which became a chapter in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. In the speech, Feynman referred to the cargo cultists of the Pacific islands who, having observed Western technology, assumed they could create such technology by merely fashioning superficially similar components. For example, they could create all the appearance of an airport, right down to headsets with bamboo "antennas". Feynman's point was that some scientists often produce studies with all the trappings of real science, but which are nonetheless pseudoscience and unworthy of either respect or support.

[edit] Chicks and fame

In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Feynman spends a chapter explaining in detail how to pick up women. (Basically, act like a pick-up artist and heavy on the negging.) None of his readers will benefit from this.

He always maintained that winning the Nobel prize hampered his life and was a complete pain in the backside.[8]

[edit] See also

  • Six Easy Pieces, a compilation of the "simpler" lectures from The Feynman Lectures on Physics

[edit] External links

[edit] References

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