Richard P. Feynman Biography

Richard P. Feynman, biography of a man who was always admired for his wit, intelligence, independence and a never-ending curiosity.

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.

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, 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 a daughter.

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 "ňúChallenger'. 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 Nobel Prize as a pain in the neck as it gave him enormous publicity that started interfering 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 for him.

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.

The physics & popular books by Feynman

1) The theory of fundamental processes

2) The Feynman lectures on physics

3) The character of physical law

4) "surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" - adventures of a curious character

5) QED: the strange theory of light and matter

6) Elementary particles and the laws of physics

7) "What do you care what other people think?"

© High Speed Ventures 2011