Richard Philips Feynman or Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist. He was born on May 11, 1918, and was known for his work in the theory of quantum electrodynamics, path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, particle physics, and physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium.
The year 1965 saw him winning the Nobel Prize in Physics and also contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. So let’s recall some of the most significant contributions of Richard Feynman and try to understand how his legacy continues to serve as a backbone for physics.
Richard Feynman was born in Queens, New York City to Lucille nee Philips, a homemaker, and Melville Arthur Feynman, a sales manager. Amongst many interesting facts about Richard Feynman, one was that he was a late speaker. He did not speak until he was three years old.
Richard’s father always encouraged him to ask questions and was also ready to teach him something new each day. He got his sense of humor from his mother, which he carried along during his entire childhood. At a very early age, Richard became interested in engineering.
He also maintained a laboratory in his home and worked in repairing radios. This was his first job and Richard showed early signs of interest for his later career in theoretical physics. It was a type that involved analyzing things analytically and arriving at solutions. In fact, when he was enrolled in grade school, he managed to develop an alarm system while his parents were out running errands.
Richard had a younger sister named Joan who was as curious about the world as Richard. Although their mother did not understand such things but Richard encouraged Joan’s interest in astronomy who eventually became an astrophysicist.
Richard Feynman was an extraordinary child in class. He went to and attended Far Rockaway High School shared by the likes of fellow Nobel laureates Burton Richter and Baruch Samuel Blumberg. His IQ was estimated to be at 125, which helped him quickly move to a higher math class in high school.
While Richard was just 15 years old, he had managed to teach himself infinite series, advanced algebra, trigonometry, and both differential and integral calculus. Before he even entered college, he was experimenting with different mathematical topics. For instance, he came up with special symbols for cosine, sine, logarithm, and tangent functions.
Then, Richard applied to Columbia University but was rejected. As a result, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although his major was mathematics but Richard switched to electrical engineering stating that mathematics was too abstract. Later, he again switched to physics thinking he had found a middle ground.
In 1939, Feynman earned a bachelor’s degree and achieved a perfect score in the entrance exams to Princeton University. However, his history and English portions were not so good. The head of the physics department at the time questioned Richard’s ethnicity as the University had to accommodate a percentage of them.
While Richard was offered a scholarship at Princeton, he was required not to marry. Nevertheless, he continued to date Arline Greenbaum, his school sweetheart. They married on Staten Island in the absence of their friends and family members.
In 1941, when World War II was raging in Europe, Richard was working on ballistic problems at the Frankford Arsenal in Pennsylvania. He was recruited to produce an atomic bomb using enriched uranium. At the time, Richard had not earned his graduate degree. Termed the Manhattan Project, Richard work with his colleagues and former mentor Ernest O. Lawrence.
However, the project was abandoned. Moving on, Richard found himself working at the Los Alamos Laboratory where he along with other professionals worked on several projects. For instance, Richard came up with a new method of computing logarithms.
Apart from playing a huge role in the development of the atomic bomb, Richard provided lectures pertaining to the storing and safety of Uranium. On the other hand, Richard’s wife Arline was dying and he sat with her for hours before she passed away. He then continued with his work on the Trinity nuclear test and was present at the time of the bomb going off as well.
At Caltech, Richard studied and investigated the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium. He had observed helium displaying a zero viscosity when flowing. Richard came up with a quantum-mechanical explanation for the theory of superfluidity by Lev Landau who was a Soviet physicist.
Then, Richard wished to quantize the Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory of electrodynamics in addition to laying the groundwork for Feynmann diagrams and path integral formulation. After the success of quantum electrodynamics, Richard shifted to quantum gravity. He worked on all four forces of nature including the weak force electromagnetic, gravity, and the strong force.
Richard also showed interest in the relationship between computation and physics. He was amongst the famous scientists to introduce the concept and possibility of quantum computers. He was known to be an individual who never created what he could understand.
In the early 1960s, Richard was requested to spruce the teaching of Caltech undergraduates. He not only served three years in this regard but also produced a lecture series known as “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”.
Richard shared and wrote his experiences about teaching physics to undergraduates in Brazil. Since the students followed the Portuguese habit and language, Richard stated that the students were not learning anything at all. Nearing his death, Richard gave several lectures across the United States in an effort to make the undergraduates think like scientists. He was regularly requested for lectures, which he gladly accepted.
Richard Feynman without a doubt was the most famous physicist of his time. His contributions to the field of physics and the development of the atomic bomb inspired and motivated others to join the field as well. Richard’s concepts, calculations, theories, and equations have a major role to play in Physics even today and perhaps that alone will continue to keep his legacy alive for years to come.