Richard Feynman was, in many respects, an eccentric and a free spirit.
ON MAY 11 in 1918, Richard P. Feynman was born in New York City. Feynman, with two other scientists, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics. He received his undergrad degree from MIT in 1939, and his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1942. He worked at Los Alamos, then became a professor at Cornell from 1945-1950. Feynman became professor of theoretical physics at California Institute of Technology in 1950. When Physics World polled scientists asking them to rank the greatest physicists, Feynman was rated seventh, behind Galileo.
Feynman was a writer and personality, as well. His first popular book was Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman. His academic classic was the 3-volume Lectures on Physics. His sister Joan once said: “If you wanted to have a good party, you had Richard there” (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 2, 2001).
In What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988), Feynman described himself as “an avowed atheist” by his early youth. “I thought nature itself was so interesting that I didn’t want it distorted (by miracle stories). And so I gradually came to disbelieve the whole religion.”
Feynman was first treated for stomach cancer in 1978. He made headlines after being appointed to a commission investigating the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster, when he figured out and demonstrated what went wrong with the O-rings.
“Start out understanding religion by saying everything is possibly wrong… As soon as you do that, you start sliding down an edge which is hard to recover from…”
– Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1981)
Once we were driving in the midwest and we pulled into a McDonald’s. Someone came up to me and asked me why I have Feynman diagrams all over my van. I replied, “Because I am Feynman!” The young man went, “Ahhhhh!”
– Richard P. Feynman
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