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Richard Feynman (1918-1988)

Theoretical physicist

Richard Feynman (pronounced “fine-man”) was perhaps one of the most influential theoretical physicists of the 20th century.

He stood out from all other scientists, not entirely because of what he discovered, but because he made the study of science fun and easy.

He worked in the area of quantum electrodynamics. This field is concerned with the study of light particles, atoms, and magnetisms.

Feynman was born on the 11th of May 1918 in America. His parents were of Russian Polish background and both his parents influenced him from a young age.

Although he did not begin talking until he was 3 years old, he showed a natural love for engineering and delighted in repairing old radios and playing in his laboratory.

His dad always taught him to question before accepting anything Feynman held onto this lesson his entire life.

This influenced him throughout his life, because he taught himself most of what he knew and used to question and find his own answers to many mathematical problems.

He enjoyed a remarkable school and university career, during which time he earned many awards, and was recognized by many great personalities.

Soon after he graduated from college he was asked to join in the Manhattan Project – the project that was developing the atomic bomb.

He was present during the “Trinity Bomb Test” to test the atomic bomb, and was supposed to be the only person who watched the explosion without wearing dark glasses.

Many great universities wanted him to lecture for them because he had gained a reputation of being “The Great Explainer”.

Students loved listening to him because he would explain very difficult and complicated science subjects easily so they could understand.

Both students and lecturers alike valued the way he lectured, and to honour him on his work he won a medal for teaching which made him very happy.

Today, his lectures on physics called the “Feynman Lectures on Physics” is so popular that is it available both in audio and book versions.

During this time he developed a groundbreaking theory on quantum electrodynamics (called the Feynman Diagrams) which won him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 too.

He also researched on the topics of liquid helium and the destruction of atomic particles.

He wrote many books and academic papers too during his lifetime so that his knowledge would reach anyone who was interested.

When NASA’s space shuttle the Orbiter Challenger crashed in 1986, Feynman was asked to join the investigation to find out why.

Even though his findings were different to those of all the others, his opinions was greatly appreciated and was included in the final report.

Feynman was married three times and had one son and an adopted daughter (from his third marriage).

He and his son seemed to share a love for computers and they worked together to find new ways of using many computers to solve difficult problems (parallel computing).

Sadly Feynman was diagnosed with two rare forms of cancer and even though he survived the first operation, he refused to be operated the second time.

He died on the 15th of February 1988 at 69 years. According to his sister, his last words had been “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring”.

Feynman’s contribution to the study of quantum physics, with his diagrams, theories, lectures, books and academic papers cannot be replaced.