On this day one century ago, a brilliant mind was born. Richard Feynman is considered one of the 20th-century’s most accomplished theoretical physicists, along with Albert Einstein and the recently-deceased Stephen Hawking.
Feynman’s most celebrated work is his contribution to quantum theory — especially its electrodynamics, “with deep-plowing consequences for the physics of elementary particles,” which won him the Nobel Prize. He could have won it again, many believed, for his work with Murray Gell-Mann that led to a theory for weak interactions, describing such phenomena as the emission of electrons from radioactive nuclei.
”I won the prize for shoving a great problem under the carpet,” Feynman said disingenuously, ”but in this case there was a moment when I knew how nature worked – it had elegance and beauty,” referring to his later work.
He was also one of the members of the top-secret team of scientists at Los Alamos who would go on to invent the atomic bomb. While there, Feynman would often be up to no good, spending his time cracking safes containing secret papers and leaving mocking notes inside, demanding one dollar for the return of patents.
In this archival footage from BBC TV, celebrated physicist Richard Feynman explains what fire, magnets, rubber bands (and more) are like at the scale of the jiggling atoms they’re made of. This accessible, enchanting conversation in physics reveals a teeming nano-world that’s just plain fun to imagine.
Like Hawking, Feynman is one of the few scientists who has entered the public’s consciousness thanks to his uncanny personality and charisma. His pioneering Caltech lectures and two autobiographical books gained him celebrity status, earning him the reputation of a quirky physicist whose humor and stage persona rivaled those of TV personalities.
Despite his many accomplishments, it wasn’t until the 1986 unfortunate accident, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, that Feynman came to the attention of millions of Americans. At the time, Feynman was appointed to the Presidential commission investigating the explosion. His presence proved essential to uncovering the root cause of the disaster that claimed the lives of all seven astronauts on board, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, and brought NASA’s human spaceflight program to an abrupt but temporary halt.
In honor of one of the most creative and original scientists of modern history, the California Institute of Technology, where Feynman worked for almost four decades until his death in 1988, is hosting a two-day meeting. The “Feynman 100” event will feature some of the world’s leading scientists, and some of Feynman’s closest friends and family, including his sister Joan and his adopted daughter Michelle. Some of the guest stars present at the event include Freeman Dyson, David Gross, Lisa Randall, Sara Seager, Leonard Susskind and Kip Thorne who will “survey the current frontiers of knowledge and share their vision of where science is heading.”
[ALSO SEE] Book review: ‘The Quotable Feynman‘