Person: Feynman, Richard Phillips
Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize winner famous for his unusual life style and for his popular books and lectures on mathematics and physics.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- It meant that a sadness fell over the household which must have greatly affected the young Richard.
- Richard, or Ritty as his friends called him, learnt a great deal of science from Encyclopaedia Britannica and taught himself elementary mathematics before he encountered it at school.
- At school Feynman approached mathematics in a highly unconventional way.
- His mathematics lecturers presented him with the view that one did mathematics for its own sake so Feynman changed courses, taking electrical engineering.
- It is interesting to think that had Feynman taken the mathematics course at Cambridge which Hoyle took around the same time, he would have found it exactly what he wanted.
- The physics course that Feynman took at MIT was not the standard one.
- There was no course on quantum mechanics, a topic that Feynman was very keen to study, so together with a fellow undergraduate, T A Welton, he began to read the available texts in the spring of 1936.
- By 1937 Feynman was reading Dirac's The principles of quantum mechanics and seeing how his highly original ideas fitted into Dirac's approach.
- Dirac became the scientist who Feynman most respected throughout his life.
- We mentioned above that Feynman went home for his vacations.
- Despite the personal recommendation that Harry Smyth at Princeton received from Slater, it was not obvious that Feynman would be accepted.
- After further letters from Slater, Feynman was accepted by Princeton.
- In retrospect, Feynman thought that Pauli must have seen difficulties at once, for after Feynman had spent a long time working on it, he too thought that it was not satisfactory.
- that the mathematical machinery emerging from the Wheeler-Feynman collaboration was beyond Wheeler's own ability).
- Feynman seemed to possess a frightening ease with the substance behind the equations, like Einstein at the same age, like the Soviet physicist Lev Landau - but few others.
- Feynman worked on the atomic bomb project at Princeton University (1941-42) and then at Los Alamos (1943-45).
- Feynman began work on the Manhattan project at Princeton developing a theory of how to separate Uranium 235 from Uranium 238, while his thesis supervisor Wheeler went to Chicago to work with Fermi on the first nuclear reactor.
- Wigner, in Wheeler's absence, advised Feynman to write up his thesis and after Wheeler and Wigner examined the work he received his doctorate in June 1942.
- Feynman had a difficult personal problem at this time.
- Shortly after his marriage Feynman went to the newly constructed Los Alamos site to work on the atomic bomb project.
- In 1950 Feynman accepted a position as professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
- He remained at Cal tech for the rest of his career, being appointed Richard Chace Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics there in 1959.
- Feynman's main contribution was to quantum mechanics, following on from the work of his doctoral thesis.
- He introduced diagrams (now called Feynman diagrams) that are graphic analogues of the mathematical expressions needed to describe the behaviour of systems of interacting particles.
- Feynman's books include many outstanding ones which evolved out of lecture courses.
- For example Quantum Electrodynamics (1961) and The Theory of Fundamental Processes (1961), The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963-65) (3 volumes), The Character of Physical Law (1965) and QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985).
- For Feynman the essence of scientific imagination was a powerful and almost painful rule.
- Feynman received many honours for his work.
Born 11 May 1918, New York City, USA. Died 15 February 1988, Los Angeles, California, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Thank you to the contributors under CC BY-SA 4.0!
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive