Richard Feynman was a brilliant Nobel Prize winning physicist with a “rock ‘n roll” personality
Richard Feynman was a talented mathematician and Nobel-prize winning physicist whose startlingly clear answers to questions earned him the unofficial title, the “Great Explainer”.
As a student at Far Rockaway High School in Queens, a borough of New York City, Feynman learned differential and integral calculus. As a sophomore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he applied his interest in mathematics; he took every physics course offered. After receiving his PhD in physics from Princeton University, he participated in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II, a secret project with the goal to develop the atomic bomb before Nazi Germany. Later, Dr Feynman was asked by the President of the United States to help investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster. His conclusions regarding the general lack of communication between NASA’s managers and engineers were punctuated with the sharp rebuke; “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
In addition to being a talented scientist, Dr Feynman was a devoted teacher. His guiding principle was that if a topic could not be explained in a freshman lecture, it was not yet fully understood — a sentiment that I was often told whilst a graduate student. Whilst at the California Institute of Technology, Dr Feynman spent three years improving the teaching of physics, which resulted in a series of lectures that are now known as the Feynman Lectures on Physics. These lectures were published in book form and are still recognised as the best “additional readings” for physics students in the United States.
Those who have visits from the “black dog” will be interested to know that Dr Feynman also suffered bouts of depression throughout his life. Despite his great intellect, these depressions affected the choices he made. For example, it is thought that depression was the reason that Dr Feynman turned down an offer designed especially for him to conduct research at the Institute for Advanced Study whilst also teaching at nearby Princeton University. Despite his depressions, it is possible that his intense curiosity is what kept him active and engaged, even during these dark times.