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Richard Feynman

1918 - 1988

Richard Feynman, 1918 - 1988

Richard Feynman was an American physicist and folk hero, known for his humour as much as his scientific work.

  • Nationality
  • American

  • Subject
  • Physics, theoretical

  • Fields
  • Particle Physics, quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel Prize in Physics, 1965, for his work in quantum electrodynamics, in particular developing the Feynman Diagrams, to explain sub-atomic particle formation and disintegration.

    Albert Einstein Award, 1954

    E. O. Lawrence Award, 1962

    Oersted Medal, 1972

    National Medal of Science, 1979

    The British Journal Physics World ranks Feynman as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.

  • Posts
  • Expert on the Rogers Commission, 1986, investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

    Part of the Los Alamos part of the Manhatten Project, which developed the atomic bomb during World War 2.

    Professor of Physics at Caltech

  • Publications
  • There's Plenty of Room at the Top, 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology.

    The Feynman Lectures, 3-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures.

    Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: adventures of a curious character, 1985, compiled by Ralph Leighton.

  • Theories
  • Theory of Quantum Electrodynamics, which, using path integral formulation (sum over histories), and the Feynman Diagrams, could predict the behaviour of subatomic particles.

    Quantum computing


    Superfluidity: a quantum-machanical explanation of Landau's theory of superfluidity

    Weak Decay model

    Quantum gravity

  • Equations
  • Feynman Diagrams: conceptualising and calculating interactions between particles in spacetime.

    Mathematical expressions governing the behaviour of subatomic particles.

As a young man, Feynman joined the Manhatten Project to develop the atomic bomb before the nazis. He later expressed his horror at the bomb being used, and becoming a danger to all humanity during the Cold War.

Richard Feynman was a showman when he lectured

Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, for his work on quantum electrodynamics. He developed many breakthrough techniques for predicting the behaviour of subatomic particles. These included the Feynman Diagrams, now a basic of all undergraduate courses.

Richard Feynman, in 1981
Richard Feynman, in 1981

Feynman has done much to popularise science. Though he did not write books himself, there have been many written about him, or collections of his reminiscences, which are both entertaining and illuminating. His lectures were videotaped, and are still very popular as he was a brilliant and engaging teacher and speaker.

Richard Feynman was instrumental in exposing the engineering flaw which caused the 1986 Challenger disaster. This flaw was exposed in a classic Feynman way during the hearings, by his dipping a piece of rubber gasket into a paper cup of liquid nitrogen to demonstrate that cold made it brittle, in contradiction to the assertions of the engineers. Feynman died soon after from cancer.

Richard Feynman, giving expert evidence at the congressional investigation into the space shuttle Columbia crash
Richard Feynman, giving expert evidence at the congressional investigation into the space shuttle Challenger crash, 1986

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