Richard Feynman
1918  1988
Richard P. Feynman was born in Queens, New York, on May 11,
1918, to Jewish (although nonpracticing) parents. By age 15, he
had mastered differential and integral calculus, and frequently
experimented and recreated mathematical topics such as the
halfderivative before even entering college. Feynman received a
bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
in 1939, and was named Putnam Fellow that same year. He received
a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1942, and in his theses
applied the principle of stationery action to problems of
quantum mechanics, laying the groundwork for the "path integral"
approach and Feynman diagrams.
While researching his Ph.D., Feynman married his first wife and
longtime sweetheart, Arline Greenbaum, who was already quite ill
with tuberculosis. At Princeton, Robert W. Wilson encouraged
Feynman to participate in the Manhattan Project. He did so,
visiting his wife in a sanitarium in Albuquerque on weekends
until her death in July 1945. He then immersed himself in work
on the project and was present at the Trinity bomb test.
Hans Bethe made the 24 year old Feynman a group leader in the
theoretical division. Although his work on the project was
relatively removed from the major action, Feynman did calculate
neutron equations for the Los Alamos "Water Boiler," a small
nuclear reactor at the desert lab, in order to measure how close
a particular assembly of fissile material was to becoming
critical. After this work, he was transferred to the Oak Ridge
facility, where he aided engineers in calculating safety
procedures for material storage so that inadvertent criticality
accidents could be avoided.
After the project, Feynman started working as a professor at
Cornell University, and then moved to Cal Tech in Pasadena,
Calif., where he did much of his best work including research in
quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of
supercooled liquid helium, and a model of weak decay. Feynman's
collaboration on the latter with Murray GellMann was seen as
seminal, as the weak interaction was neatly described. He also
developed Feynman diagrams, a bookkeeping device that helps in
conceptualizing and calculating interactions between particles
in spacetime, notably the interactions between electrons and
their antimatter counterparts, positrons.
He later married Gweneth Howarth and had a son, Carl Richard,
and a daughter, Michelle Catherine. In 1965, Feynman, along with
Julian Schwinger and Shinichiro Tomonaga, shared the Nobel Prize
in Physics for work in quantum electrodynamics. Feynman's
popular lection series was published in "The Feynman Lectures,"
while his personal side was captured in "Surely You're Joking,
Mr. Feynman!" and "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"
Feynman is also known for his work on the Space Shuttle
Challenger accident investigation, shocking the world by
demonstrating the failure of the ORings. He died February 15,
1988, at the age of 69, from several rare forms of cancer.
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The theoretical work of the American physicist Richard Phillips
Feynman (19181988) opened up the doors to research in quantum
electrodynamics. He shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Richard Feynman was born on May 11, 1918, in Far Rockaway, a
suburb of New York City. He lived there until 1935, when he left
to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After
receiving a bachelor's degree in physics in 1939, he went to
Princeton University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1942. While
at Princeton, Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project, which
eventually led him to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1943 to work on
the atomic bomb. In 1946 he went to Cornell University, where he
remained as an associate professor of theoretical physics until
1951. He spent half of that year in Brazil lecturing at the
University of Rio and then became a Tolman professor of physics
at the California Institute of Technology, where he stayed for
more than 30 years. He had three wives and two children, Carl
and Michelle.
Solves Problems in the Theory of Quantum Electrodynamics
Feynman's primary contribution to physics was in the field of
quantum electrodynamics, which is the study of the interactions
of electromagnetic radiation with atoms and with fundamental
particles, such as electrons. Because the equations that compose
it are applicable to atomic physics, chemistry, and
electromagnetism, quantum electrodynamics is one of the most
useful tools in understanding physical phenomena.
The field initially grew out of work done by P. Dirac, W.
Heisenberg, W. Pauli, and E. Fermi in the late 1920s.
The original theory was constructed by integrating quantum
mechanics into classical electrodynamics. It provided a
reasonable explanation of the dual waveparticle nature of light
by explaining how it was possible for light to behave like a
wave under certain conditions and like a particle (a "photon")
on other occasions. Dirac in particular introduced a theory that
described the behavior of an electron in accordance with both
relativity and quantum mechanics. His theory brought together
almost everything that was known about particle physics in the
1920s. However, when the principles behind electromagnetic
interactions were brought into Dirac's equation, numerous
mathematical problems arose: meaningless or infinite answers
were obtained when the theory was applied to certain
experimental data.
Feynman found a way to bypass, though not solve, these problems.
Be redefining the existing value of the charge and the mass of
the electron (a process known as "renormalization"), he managed
to make the "divergent integrals" irrelevant  these were the
terms in the theory which had previously led to meaningless
answers. Thus, while some divergent terms still exist in quantum
electrodynamics, they no longer enter the calculations of
measurable quantities from theory.
The significance of Feynman's contribution is enormous. He gave
the theory of quantum electrodynamics a true physical meaning as
well as an experimental use. The renormalized values for the
electron's charge and mass provide finite, accurate means of
measuring electron properties such as magnetic moment. This
theory has also made a detailed description of the fine
structure of the hydrogen atom possible. It also presents a
precise picture of the collisions of electrons, positrons
(antielectrons), and photons in matter.
Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum
electrodynamics in 1965, together with fellow American Julian
Schwinger and Shinichiro Tomonaga of Japan, both of whom had
separately developed similar theories, but using different
mathematical methods. Feynman's theory was especially distinct
from the other two in its use of graphic models to describe the
intermediate states that a changing electrodynamic system passes
through. These models are known as "Feynman diagrams" and are
widely used in the analysis of problems involving pair
production, Compton scattering, and many other quantumelectrodynamic
problems.
Feynman was fond of using visual techniques to solve problems.
In addition to his Feynman diagrams, he developed a method of
analyzing MASER (microwave amplification by stimulated emission
of radiation) devices that relies heavily on creating accurate
pictorial representations of the interactions involved. A MASER
device is one that uses the natural oscillations of molecules to
generate or amplify signals in the microwave region of the
electromagnetic spectrum; they are used in radios and
amplifiers, among other things. Feynman's method for analyzing
these devices greatly simplified and shortened the solutions, as
well as brought out the important features of the device much
more rapidly.
Feynman also worked on the theory of liquid helium, supporting
the work of the Russian physicist L. D. Landau. Landau had shown
that below a certain temperature the properties of liquid helium
were similar to those of a mixture of two fluids; this is known
as the twofluid model. Feynman showed that a roton, which is a
quantity of rotational motion that can be found in liquid
helium, is the quantum mechanical equivalent of a rapidly
spinning ring whose diameter is almost equal to the distance
between the helium atoms in the liquid. This discovery gave
Landau's theory a foundation in atomic theory.
Contributes to Knowledge of Quarks
Richard Feynman did work in many other areas of physics,
including important work on the theory of Betadecay, a process
whereby the nucleus of a radioactive atom emits an electron,
thereby transforming into a different atom with a different
atomic number. His interest in the weak nuclear force  which is
the force that makes the process of radioactive decay possible 
led Feynman and American physicist Murray GellMann to the
supposition that the emission of betaparticles from radioactive
nuclei acts as the chief agitator in the decay process. As James
Gleick explained in Genius, Feynman also contributed to a
"theory of partons, hypothetical hard particles inside the
atom's nucleus, that helped produce the modern understanding of
quarks." Quarks are the most elementary subatomic particles.
Feynman wrote many theoretical physics books which are in use in
universities around the country, as well as a series entitled
Feynman's Lectures in Physics, which he put together based on
several terms of physics lectures he gave at the California
Institute of Technology in 1965. The lectures presented a
completely revolutionary approach to teaching university
physics, providing a valuable resource to all physics majors. He
also dabbled in many areas outside of physics, including
drumming and drawing.
Feynman received the Albert Einstein Award in 1954, and he was
warded the Niels Bohr International Gold Medal in 1973. He was a
member of the National Academy of Science and a foreign member
of the Royal Society in London.
Explains Why the Shuttle Exploded
In January 1986, the space shuttle Challenge rexploded above
Cape Kennedy, Florida. Feynman was named to the 12member
special (Rogers) commission that investigated the accident. When
public hearings began in February, the discussion quickly turned
toward the effect of cold temperatures on Orings. These rubber
rings seal the joints of the solid rocket boosters on either
side of the large external tank that holds the liquid oxygen and
hydrogen fuel for the shuttle. Using a glass of ice water,
Feynman demonstrated how slowly the Oring regained its original
shape when it was cold. Because of the Oring's slow reaction
time, hot gases had escaped, eroded the ring, and burned a hole
in the side of the right solid rocket booster, ultimately
causing the explosion of the space craft.
In October 1979, Feynman was diagnosed with Myxoid liposarcoma,
a rare cancer that affects the soft tissues of the body. The
tumor from the cancer weighed six pounds and was located in the
back of his abdomen, where it destroyed his left kidney. Feynman
was diagnosed with another cancerous abdominal tumor in October
1987 and died of complications on February 19, 1988.
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American physicist who was born in New York City on May 11,
1918. He grew up in Far Rockaway, Queens and when he was about
10, he started to buy old radios to use in his "personal
laboratory," a collection of electric gadgets and components,
and by the age of 12, he was already fixing radios in his
neighborhood. Feynman related a number of entertaining and
revealing vignettes from his childhood and throughout his
professional career in the engaging, delightful, and bestselling
autobiographical work Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! This
collection was subsequently followed by The Meaning of It All:
Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist and Tuva or Bust!: Richard
Feynman's Last Journey.
Feynman studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and
continued his studies at Princeton University, where he obtained
his Ph.D. in physics in 1942 with a thesis supervised by John
Wheeler. His thesis dealt with advanced waves, which can be
described as the theory of electromagnetic waves that travel
"backwards" in time. His first lecture at Princeton on the
subject was interesting enough to draw an audience that included
none less than Einstein, Pauli, and von Neumann.
After completing his Ph.D., Feynman moved to Cornell University
in 1945 as professor of theoretical physics. There, he met Hans
Bethe and became involved in the Manhattan Project. While moving
to the newly constructed secret laboratory at Los Alamos,
Feynman flouted military discipline with a series of quirky
practical jokes and tricks. He was particularly fond of pointing
out the insufficiency of the security of the Los Alamos safes
inside which the plans for the atomic bomb where entrusted. To
drive this point home, he taught himself how to open safes, with
results amusingly recounted in Surely You're Joking, Mr.
Feynman! While Feynman toiled at Los Alamos, his wife became
very sick and subsequently died.
Soon after the war, Feynman was invited as a visiting professor
to the University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He subsequently
accepted a professorship of theoretical physics at the
California Institute of Technology in 1950, but loved Brazil so
much that one of his "conditions" was to be able to visit Brazil
again. As a result, he did not actually start lecturing at
Caltech until 1951. While in Brazil, Feynman lectured about
electromagnetism for ten months, at the same time preparing to
parade in the carnival of a samba school in Copacabana, Rio de
Janeiro.
Upon returning to Caltech the following year, Feynman returned
his attention quantum electrodynamics Eric Weisstein's World of
Physics and successfully developed the rules that all quantum
field theories Eric Weisstein's World of Physics must obey. In
the process, he discovered how to renormalize the theory of
quantum electrodynamics Eric Weisstein's World of Physics and
also invented a nice way of representing quantum interactions,
now called Feynman diagrams. Eric Weisstein's World of Physics
For all these contributions, especially to the renormalization
of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman shared the 1965 Nobel Prize
in physics with ShinIchiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger, each
of whom also contributed to the renormalization of the theory.
Feynman also contributed to the theory of nuclear interactions
with Murray GellMann.
Feynman was always concerned about the education of physics.
During his visit to Brazil, he evaluated the Brazilian
educational system, writing an essay and giving a lecture about
it at the end of the semester of 1950. He was also a member of
the council for evaluation of books of mathematics and physics
for the primary and secondary public schools of California for
two years. He also invigorated undergraduate physics education
at Caltech, where his four years of lectures were edited and
collected into the classic threevolume textbook The Feynman
Lectures on Physics, which has become an inspiration for
students of physics ever since. Feynman also published a number
of popularizations of physics, including QED: The Strange Theory
of Light and Matter.
After the explosion of NASA's Space Shuttle Challenger, Feynman
was appointed to the council investigating the causes of the
disaster. In his usual brusque and nononsense style, Feynman
cut through the bureaucracy and identified the cause of disaster
as the failure of an oring seal in the unusually cold
launchpad temperatures, even dunking a similar oring in a
glass of ice water in front of other committee members to
emphasize his conclusion.
In the early 1980s, Feynman developed an abdominal cancer. After
a fiveyear fight, Feynman succumbed in 1988 at the age of 69.
Feynman was the recipient of numerous awards during his
lifetime, including the Albert Einstein Award (1954, Princeton)
and Lawrence Award (1962). Feynman was also a member of the
American Physical Society, the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Science, and was
elected a foreign member of the Royal Society, London (Great
Britain) in 1965.
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