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  1. Atomic force microscope
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  8. Bionanotechnology
  9. Break junction
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  20. Computronium
  21. Coulomb blockade
  22. Diamondoids
  23. Dielectrophoresis
  24. Dip Pen Nanolithography
  25. DNA machine
  26. Ecophagy
  27. Electrochemical scanning tunneling microscope
  28. Electron beam lithography
  29. Electrospinning
  30. Engines of Creation
  31. Exponential assembly
  32. Femtotechnology
  33. Fermi point
  34. Fluctuation dissipation theorem
  35. Fluorescence interference contrast microscopy
  36. Fullerene
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  39. Grey goo
  40. Hacking Matter
  41. History of nanotechnology
  42. Hydrogen microsensor
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  44. Ion-beam sculpting
  45. Kelvin probe force microscope
  46. Lab-on-a-chip
  47. Langmuir-Blodgett film
  48. LifeChips
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  66. Molecular manufacturing
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  80. Nanoelectrode
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  88. Nanoionics
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  92. Nanomedicine
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  98. Nanophotonics
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  100. Nanoprobe
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  102. Nanorobot
  103. Nanorod
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  105. Nano-Science Center
  106. Nanosensor
  107. Nanoshell
  108. Nanosight
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  113. Nanotechnology in fiction
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  116. Nanovid microscopy
  117. Nanowire
  118. National Nanotechnology Initiative
  119. Neowater
  120. Niemeyer-Dolan technique
  121. Ormosil
  122. Photolithography
  123. Picotechnology
  124. Programmable matter
  125. Quantum dot
  126. Quantum heterostructure
  127. Quantum point contact
  128. Quantum solvent
  129. Quantum well
  130. Quantum wire
  131. Richard Feynman
  132. Royal Society's nanotech report
  133. Scanning gate microscopy
  134. Scanning probe lithography
  135. Scanning probe microscopy
  136. Scanning tunneling microscope
  137. Scanning voltage microscopy
  138. Self-assembled monolayer
  139. Self-assembly
  140. Self reconfigurable
  141. Self-Reconfiguring Modular Robotics
  142. Self-replication
  143. Smart dust
  144. Smart material
  145. Soft lithography
  146. Spent nuclear fuel
  147. Spin polarized scanning tunneling microscopy
  148. Stone Wales defect
  149. Supramolecular assembly
  150. Supramolecular chemistry
  151. Supramolecular electronics
  152. Surface micromachining
  153. Surface plasmon resonance
  154. Synthetic molecular motors
  155. Synthetic setae
  156. Tapping AFM
  157. There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom
  158. Transfersome
  159. Utility fog


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Richard Feynman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Richard Phillips Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988; surname pronounced FINE-man; /ˈfaɪnmən/) was an American physicist known for expanding the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and particle theory. For his work on quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, together with Julian Schwinger and Shin-Ichiro Tomonaga; he developed a way to understand the behavior of subatomic particles using pictorial tools that later became known as Feynman diagrams.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Despite his prolific contributions, Feynman wrote only 37 research papers during his career. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman is credited with the concept and early exploration of quantum computing, and publicly envisioning nanotechnology, creation of devices at the molecular scale. He held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at Caltech.

Feynman was a keen and influential popularizer of physics in both his books and lectures, notably a seminal 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom and The Feynman Lectures on Physics, a three-volume set which has become a classic text. Known for his insatiable curiosity, wit, brilliant mind and playful temperament,[1] he is equally famous for his many adventures, detailed in his books Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, What Do You Care What Other People Think? and Tuva or Bust!. As well as being an inspirational lecturer, bongo player, notorious practical joker, and decipherer of Maya hieroglyphs, Richard Feynman was regarded as an eccentric and a free spirit. He liked to pursue multiple seemingly independent paths, such as biology, art, percussion, and lock picking. Freeman Dyson once wrote that Feynman was "half-genius, half-buffoon", but later revised this to "all-genius, all-buffoon".


Richard Phillips Feynman was born on 11 May 1918,[2] in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York;[3] his parents were Jewish and attended synagogue every Friday, although they were not ritualistic in their practice of Judaism. Feynman (in common with other famous physicists, Edward Teller and Albert Einstein) was a late talker; by his third birthday he had yet to utter a single word. The young Feynman was heavily influenced by his father, Melville, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking. From his mother he gained the sense of humor that endured throughout his life. His sister Joan also became a professional physicist. As a child, he delighted in repairing radios and had a talent for engineering.


In high school he was bright, with a measured IQ of 125[4]: high, but "merely respectable" according to biographer James Gleick.[4] He would later scoff at psychometric testing. By 15, he had mastered differential and integral calculus. Before entering college, he was already experimenting with and re-creating mathematical topics, such as the half-derivative, utilizing his own notation. Thus, even while still in high school, he was developing the mathematical intuition behind his Taylor series of mathematical operators. His habit of direct characterization would sometimes disconcert more conventional thinkers; for example, one of his questions when learning feline anatomy was: "Do you have a map of the cat?" (referring to an anatomical chart).

In his last year at Far Rockaway High School, Feynman won the New York University Math Championship. He applied to Columbia College, but was rejected because of its Jewish quota.[5] Instead, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor's degree in 1939, and in the same year was named Putnam Fellow. While there, Feynman had taken every physics course offered, taking a graduate course on theoretical physics while only in his second year. He obtained a perfect score on the entrance exams to Princeton University in mathematics and physics — an unprecedented feat — but did rather poorly on the history and English portions. Attendees at Feynman's first seminar included the luminaries Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, and John von Neumann. He received a Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1942; his thesis advisor was John Archibald Wheeler. Feynman's thesis applied the principle of stationary action to problems of quantum mechanics, laying the ground work for the "path integral" approach and Feynman diagrams.

This was Richard Feynman nearing the crest of his powers. At twenty-three ... there was no physicist on earth who could match his exuberant command over the native materials of theoretical science. It was not just a facility at mathematics (though it had become clear ... 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 Albert Einstein at the same age, like the Soviet physicist Lev Landau - but few others.

—James Gleick , Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

While researching his PhD, Feynman married his first wife, Arline Greenbaum. (Arline's name is often spelled Arlene). Arline was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a terminal illness at that time, but she and Feynman were careful, and he never contracted the disease.

The Manhattan Project

Feynman (center) with Robert Oppenheimer (right) relaxing at a Los Alamos social function during the top-secret Manhattan Project.
Feynman (center) with Robert Oppenheimer (right) relaxing at a Los Alamos social function during the top-secret Manhattan Project.

At Princeton, the physicist Robert R. Wilson encouraged Feynman to participate in the Manhattan Project—the wartime U.S. Army project at Los Alamos attempting to develop the atomic bomb. Feynman said he was persuaded to join this effort to help make sure that Nazi Germany did not build it first. He was assigned to Hans Bethe's theoretical division, and impressed Bethe enough to be made a group leader. Together with Bethe, he developed the Bethe-Feynman formula for calculating the yield of a fission bomb, which built upon previous work by Robert Serber. Up until her death on June 16, 1945, he visited his wife in a sanatorium in Albuquerque each weekend. He immersed himself in work on the project, and was present at the Trinity bomb test. Feynman claimed to be the only person to see the explosion without the very dark glasses provided, reasoning that it was safe to ignore instructions and look through a truck windshield as it would screen out the harmful ultraviolet radiation.

As a junior physicist, he was not central to the project; the greater part of his work consisted of administering the computation group of human computers in the Theoretical division, and later, with Nicholas Metropolis, setting up the system for using IBM punch cards for computation. Feynman succeeded in solving one of the equations for the project that were posted on the blackboards. However, they did not "do the physics right" and Feynman's solution was not used in the project.

Feynman's other work at Los Alamos included calculating neutron equations for the Los Alamos "Water Boiler", a small nuclear reactor at the desert lab, to measure how close a particular assembly of fissile material was to becoming critical. On completing this work he was transferred to the Oak Ridge facility, where he aided engineers in calculating safety procedures for material storage, so that inadvertent criticality accidents, (e.g., by storing individually subcritical amounts of fissile material in proximity on opposite sides of a wall) could be avoided. He also did crucial theoretical work and calculations on the proposed uranium-hydride bomb, which was later to prove to be unfeasible.

Feynman was sought out by the famous physicist Niels Bohr for one-on-one discussions. He later discovered the reason: most physicists were too in awe of Bohr to argue with him. Feynman had no such inhibitions, vigorously pointing out anything he considered to be flawed in Bohr's thinking. Feynman said he felt just as much respect for Bohr's reputation as anyone else, but that once anyone got him talking about physics, he could not help but forget about anything else.

Feynman's ID badge photo from Los Alamos.
Feynman's ID badge photo from Los Alamos.

Due to the top secret nature of the work, Los Alamos was isolated; in his own words, "There wasn't anything to do there". Bored, Feynman indulged his curiosity by learning to pick the combination locks on cabinets and desks used to secure papers. Feynman played many jokes on colleagues; in one case he found the combination to a locked filing cabinet by trying the numbers a physicist would use (it proved to be 27-18-28 after the base of natural logarithms, e=2.71828...), and found that the three filing cabinets in which a colleague kept a comprehensive set of atomic bomb research notes all had the same combination. He left a series of notes as a prank, which initially spooked his colleague into thinking a spy or saboteur had gained access to atomic bomb secrets (coincidentally, Feynman once borrowed the car of physicist Klaus Fuchs who was later discovered to be a spy for the Soviets). On another occasion, he observed that a captain in his building at Los Alamos had a massive safe, better than anything the bomb scientists had, installed with much ado in his office. Some time after the captain left Los Alamos, Feynman discovered that the captain had firstly never bothered to change the combination from the generic factory setting, so that even an amateur safecracker could open it, and secondly there was nothing important being kept in the safe anyway, whereas all the secrets of the bomb scientists were mostly kept in relatively insecure locked cabinets.

On occasion, Feynman would find an isolated section of the mesa to drum Indian-style; "and maybe I would dance and chant, a little". These antics did not go unnoticed, and rumors spread about a mysterious Indian drummer called "Injun Joe". He also became a friend of laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer, who unsuccessfully tried to court him away from his other commitments to work at the University of California, Berkeley after the war.

Early career

After the project concluded, Feynman began work as a professor at Cornell University, where Hans Bethe (who proved that the sun's source of energy was nuclear fusion) worked. However, he felt uninspired there; despairing that he had burned out, he turned to less useful, but fun problems, such as analyzing the physics of a twirling, nutating dish, as it is being balanced by a juggler. (As it turned out, this work served him well in future research.) He was therefore surprised to be offered professorships from competing universities, eventually choosing to work at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, California, despite being offered a position near Princeton, at the Institute for Advanced Study (which included such distinguished faculty members as Albert Einstein).

Feynman rejected the Institute on the grounds that there were no teaching duties. Feynman found his students to be a source of inspiration and, during uncreative times, comfort. He felt that if he could not be creative, at least he could teach. Another major factor in his decision was a desire to live in a mild climate, a goal he chose while having to put snow chains on his car's wheels in the middle of a snowstorm in Ithaca, New York.

Feynman the "Great Explainer": The Feynman Lectures on Physics found an appreciative audience beyond the undergraduate community.
Feynman the "Great Explainer": The Feynman Lectures on Physics found an appreciative audience beyond the undergraduate community.

Feynman is sometimes called the "Great Explainer"; he took great care when explaining topics to his students, making it a moral point not to make a topic arcane, but instead accessible to others. His principle was that if a topic could not be explained in a freshman lecture, it was not yet fully understood. Feynman gained great pleasure from coming up with such a "freshman level" explanation of the connection between spin and statistics (that groups of particles with spin 1/2 "repel", whereas groups with integer spin "clump"), a question he pondered in his own lectures and to which he demonstrated the solution in the 1986 Dirac memorial lecture.[6] He opposed rote learning and other teaching methods that emphasized form over function, everywhere from a conference on education in Brazil to a state commission on school textbook selection. Clear thinking and clear presentation were fundamental prerequisites for his attention. It could be perilous to even approach him when unprepared, and he did not forget the fools or pretenders.[7]

During one sabbatical year, he returned to Newton's Principia to study it anew; what he learned from Newton, he passed along to his students, such as Newton's attempted explanation of diffraction.

The Caltech years

Feynman did much of his best work while at Caltech, including research in:

  • Quantum electrodynamics. The theory for which Feynman won his Nobel Prize is known for its extremely accurate predictions.[8][9] He helped develop a functional integral formulation of quantum mechanics, in which every possible path from one state to the next is considered, the final path being a sum over the possibilities.[10]
  • Physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, where helium seems to display a lack of viscosity when flowing. Applying the Schrödinger equation to the question showed that the superfluid was displaying quantum mechanical behavior observable on a macroscopic scale. This helped enormously with the problem of superconductivity.
  • A model of weak decay, which showed that the current coupling in the process is a combination of vector and axial (an example of weak decay is the decay of a neutron into an electron, a proton, and an anti-neutrino). Although E.C. George Sudharsan and Robert Marshak developed the theory nearly simultaneously, Feynman's collaboration with Murray Gell-Mann was seen as seminal; the theory was of massive importance, and the weak interaction was neatly described.

He also developed Feynman diagrams, a bookkeeping device which helps in conceptualizing and calculating interactions between particles in spacetime, notably the interactions between electrons and their antimatter counterparts, positrons. This device allowed him, and later others, to work with concepts that would have otherwise been less approachable, such as time reversibility and other fundamental processes. Feynman famously painted Feynman diagrams on the exterior of his van.

Feynman diagrams are now fundamental for string theory and M-theory, and have even been extended topologically. Feynman's mental picture for these diagrams started with the hard sphere approximation, and the interactions could be thought of as collisions at first. It was not until decades later that physicists thought of analyzing the nodes of the Feynman diagrams more closely. The world-lines of the diagrams have developed to become tubes to allow better modelling of more complicated objects such as strings and M-branes.

From his diagrams of a small number of particles interacting in spacetime, Feynman could then model all of physics in terms of those particles' spins and the range of coupling of the fundamental forces.[11] Feynman attempted an explanation of the strong interactions governing nucleons scattering called the parton model. The parton model emerged as a rival to the quark model developed by his Caltech colleague Murray Gell-Mann. The relationship between the two models was murky; Gell-Mann referred to Feynman's partons derisively as "put-ons". Feynman did not dispute the quark model; for example, when the fifth quark was discovered, Feynman immediately pointed out to his students that the discovery implied the existence of a sixth quark, which was duly discovered in the decade after his death.

After the success of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman turned to quantum gravity. By analogy with the photon, which has spin 1, he investigated the consequences of a free massless spin 2 field, and was able to derive the Einstein field equation of general relativity, but little more.[12] However, a calculational technique that Feynman developed for gravity in 1962 — "ghosts" — later proved invaluable. In 1967, Fadeev and Popov quantized the particle behaviour of the spin 1 theories of Yang-Mills -Shaw -Pauli, that are now seen to describe the weak and strong interactions, using Feynman's path integral technique. At this time he exhausted himself by working on multiple major projects at the same time, including his Lectures in Physics.

While at Caltech, Feynman was asked to "spruce up" the teaching of undergraduates. After three years devoted to the task, he produced a series of lectures that would eventually become the Feynman Lectures on Physics, one reason that Feynman is still regarded as one of the greatest teachers of physics. He wanted a picture of a drumhead sprinkled with powder to show the modes of vibration at the beginning of the book; the publishers misunderstood him, and the books instead carried a picture of him playing drums. Feynman later won the Oersted Medal for teaching, of which he seemed especially proud. His students competed keenly for his attention; he was once woken when a student solved a problem and dropped it in his mailbox; glimpsing the student sneaking across his lawn, he could not go back to sleep, and he read the student's solution. The next morning his breakfast was interrupted by another triumphant student, but Feynman informed him that he was too late.

Partly as a way to bring publicity to progress in physics, Feynman offered $1000 prizes for two of his challenges in nanotechnology. He was also one of the first scientists to conceive the possibility of quantum computers. Many of his lectures and other miscellaneous talks were turned into books, including The Character of Physical Law and QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. He gave lectures which his students annotated into books, such as Statistical Mechanics and Lectures on Gravity. The Feynman Lectures on Physics[13] required two physicists, Robert B. Leighton and Matthew Sands as full-time editors for several years. Even though they were not adopted by the universities as textbooks, the books continue to be bestsellers because they provide a deep understanding of physics. As of 2005, The Feynman Lectures on Physics have sold over 1.5 million copies in English, an estimated 1 million copies in Russian, and an estimated half million copies in other languages.

In 1974 Feynman delivered the Caltech commencement address on the topic of cargo cult science, which has the semblance of science but is only pseudoscience due to a lack of integrity on the part of the scientist. He instructed the graduating class that "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that."

In the late 1970's, according to "Richard Feynman and the Connection Machine", Feynman played a critical role in developing the first parallel-processing computer and finding innovative uses for it in numerical computing and building neural networks, as well as physical simulation with cellular automata (such as turbulent fluid flow), working with Stephen Wolfram at Caltech.[14]

Shortly before his death, Feynman criticized string theory in an interview: "I don't like that they're not calculating anything," he said. "I don't like that they don't check their ideas. I don't like that for anything that disagrees with an experiment, they cook up an explanation - a fix-up to say, 'Well, it still might be true.'" These words have since been much-quoted by opponents of the string-theoretic direction for particle physics.

Personal life

He was married a second time in June 1952, to Mary Louise Bell of Neodesha, Kansas; this marriage was brief and unsuccessful. He later married Gweneth Howarth from the United Kingdom, who shared his enthusiasm for life and spirited adventure. Besides their home in Altadena, California, they had a beach house in Baja California. They remained married until Feynman's death, had a son, Carl, in 1962, and adopted a daughter, Michelle, in 1968.[15]

Feynman had a great deal of success teaching Carl using discussions about ants and Martians as a device for gaining perspective on problems and issues; he was surprised to learn that the same teaching devices did not apply for Michelle. Mathematics was a common interest for father and son; they both entered the computer field as consultants and were involved in advancing a new method of using multiple computers to solve complex problems - later known as parallel computing. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory retained Feynman as a computational consultant during critical missions. One coworker characterized Feynman as akin to Don Quixote at his desk, rather than at a computer workstation, ready to do battle with the windmills.

According to his colleague, Professor Steven Frautschi, Feynman was the only person in the Altadena region to buy flood insurance after the massive 1978 fire, predicting correctly that the fire's destruction would lead to land erosion, causing mudslides and flooding. The flood occurred in 1979 after winter rains and destroyed multiple houses in the neighborhood. Feynman's use of insurance, an inherently future-looking device, was not only fortunate but ironic in light of his depiction of his outlook following the Manhattan Project. Feynman wrote that in the years following the development and use of the atomic bomb, whenever seeing the construction of a bridge or a new building, he was unavoidably struck by the thought that the labor was futile and in vain, as the human race would soon be undone by the bomb.

Feynman traveled a great deal, notably to Brazil, and near the end of his life schemed to visit the Russian land of Tuva, a dream that, due to Cold War bureaucratic problems, never became reality.[16] During this period he discovered that he had a form of cancer, but, thanks to surgery, he managed to hold it off. Out of his enthusiastic interest in reaching Tuva came the phrase "Tuva or Bust" (also the title of a book about his efforts to get there), which was tossed about frequently amongst his circle of friends in hope that they, one day, could see it firsthand. The documentary movie Genghis Blues mentions some of his attempts to communicate with Tuva and chronicles the journey when some of his friends did make it there. His attempts to write and send a letter using an English-Russian and Russian-Tuvan dictionary demonstrate his usual zest for life.

Feynman did not work only on physics, and had a large circle of friends from all walks of life, including the arts. He took up painting at one time and enjoyed some success under the pseudonym "Ofey", culminating in an exhibition dedicated to his work. He learned to play drums (frigideira) in a samba style in Brazil by dint of persistence and practice, and participated in a samba school. Feynman even attempted to translate Mayan hieroglyphics. Such actions earned him a reputation of eccentricity.

According to Genius, the James Gleick biography, Richard Feynman experimented with LSD during his professorship at Caltech. Somewhat embarrassed by his actions, Feynman sidestepped the issue when dictating his anecdotes; consequently, the "Altered States" chapter in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! describes only marijuana and ketamine experiences at John Lilly's famed sensory deprivation tanks, as a way of studying consciousness. Feynman gave up alcohol when he began to show early signs of alcoholism, as he did not want to do anything that could damage his brain.

Feynman also had very liberal views on sexuality and was not ashamed of admitting it. In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, he gives advice on the best way to pick up a girl in a hostess bar. At Caltech, he used a nude/topless bar as an office away from his usual office, making sketches or writing physics equations on paper placemats. When the county officials tried to close the locale, all visitors except Feynman refused to testify in favor of the bar, fearing that their families would learn about their visits. Only Feynman accepted, and in court, he affirmed that the bar was a public need, stating that craftsmen, technicians, engineers, common workers "and a physics professor" frequented the establishment. The bar was allowed to remain open.

Feynman served on the presidential commission investigating the 1986 Challenger disaster. He concluded that NASA management's space shuttle reliability estimate to be fantastically unrealistic. He warned in his appendix to the commission's report: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
Feynman served on the presidential commission investigating the 1986 Challenger disaster. He concluded that NASA management's space shuttle reliability estimate to be fantastically unrealistic. He warned in his appendix to the commission's report: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Later years

Feynman was requested to serve on the Presidential Rogers Commission which investigated the Challenger disaster of 1986. Feynman devoted the latter half of his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? to his experience on the Rogers Commission, straying from his usual convention of brief, light-hearted anecdotes to deliver an extended and sober narrative. Feynman's account reveals a disconnect between NASA's engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA's high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts. In one example, early stress tests resulted in some of the booster rocket's O-rings cracking a third of the way through. NASA managers recorded that this result demonstrated that the O-rings had a "safety factor" of 3, based on the 1/3 penetration of the crack. Feynman incredulously explains the gravity of this error: a "safety factor" refers to the practice of building an object to be capable of withstanding more force than it will ever conceivably be subjected to. To paraphrase Feynman's example, if engineers built a bridge that could bear 3,000 pounds without any damage, even though it was never expected to bear more than 1,000 pounds in practice, the safety factor would be 3. If, however, a truck drove across the bridge and it cracked at all, the safety factor is now zero: the bridge is defective. Feynman was clearly disturbed by the fact that NASA management not only misunderstood this concept, but in fact inverted it by using a term denoting an extra level of safety to describe a part that was actually defective and unsafe. Feynman continued to investigate the lack of communication between NASA's management and its engineers and was struck by the management's claim that the risk of catastrophic malfunction on the shuttle was 1 in 10^5; i.e., 1 in 100,000. Feynman immediately realized that this claim was risible on its face; as he described, this assessment of risk would entail that we could launch a shuttle every day for the next 275 years without an accident. Investigating the claim further, Feynman discovered that the 1 in 10^5 figure was reached by the highly dubious method of attempting to calculate the probability of failure of every individual part of the shuttle, and then adding these estimates together. Feynman was disturbed by two aspects of this practice. First, NASA management assigned a probability of failure to each individual bolt, sometimes claiming a probability of 1 in 10>8; that is, one in one hundred million. Feynman points out that it is impossible to calculate such a remote possibility with any scientific rigor. Secondly, Feynman was bothered not just by this sloppy science but by the fact that NASA claimed that the risk of catastrophic failure was "necessarily" 1 in 10^5. As the figure itself was beyond belief, Feynman questioned exactly what "necessarily" meant in this context--did it mean that the figure followed logically from other calculations, or did it reflect NASA management's desire to make the numbers fit? Feynman suspected that the 1/100,000 figure was wildly fantastical, and made a rough estimate that the true likelihood of shuttle disaster was closer to 1 in 100. He then decided to poll the engineers themselves, asking them to write down an anonymous estimate of the odds of shuttle explosion. Feynman found that the bulk of the engineers' estimates fell between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100. Not only did this confirm that NASA management had clearly failed to communicate with their own engineers, but the disparity engaged Feynman's emotions. When describing these wildly differing estimates, Feynman briefly lapses from his damaging but dispassionate detailing of NASA's flaws to recognize the moral failing that resulted from a scientific failing: he was clearly upset that NASA presented its clearly fantastical figures as fact to convince a member of the laity, schoolteacher Christa McCauliffe, to join the crew. Feynman was not uncomfortable with the concept of a 1/100 risk, but felt strongly that the recruitment of laypeople required an honest portrayal of the real risk involved.

Feynman's investigation eventually suggested to him that the cause of the Challenger explosion was the very part to which NASA management so mistakenly assigned a safety factor. The O-rings were rubber rings designed to form a seal in the shuttle's solid rocket boosters, preventing the rockets' super-heated gas from escaping and damaging other parts of the vehicle. Feynman suspected that despite NASA's claims, the O-rings were unsuitable at low temperatures and became rigid when cold, thus failing to flex and form a tight seal where needed. Feynman's suspicions were corroborated by an engineer who surreptitiously provided Feynman with inside information, although Feynman never confirmed his suspicions first-hand. Despite this, Feynman trusted his source well enough to rely on his information to perform a highly public stunt. Called to testify before Congress and relate his findings, Feynman brought with him an O-ring identical to those used in the Challenger. Feynman questioned a NASA manager with seeming innocence, focusing on the cold temperatures that O-rings could be subjected to while remaining flexible (i.e., effective). While the NASA manager insisted that O-rings would retain their flexibility even in extreme cold, Feynman inconspicuously asked a young page for a glass of ice water. Unnoticed, Feynman used a small vice to crush the O-ring, and then placed both in the ice water. After receiving repeated assurances that O-rings would withstand subzero temperatures, Feynman took the O-ring out of the water and removed the vice, revealing that the O-ring remained hopelessly crushed and inflexible even at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. While Feynman worried that the audience did not realize the import of his action, the New York Times picked the story up, crediting Feynman for his ruse, and earning him a small measure of fame.

Based on his experiences with NASA's management and engineers, Feynman concluded that the serious deficiencies in NASA management's scientific understanding, the lack of communication between the two camps, and the gross misrepresentation of the shuttle's dangers required that NASA take a hiatus from shuttle launches until it could resolve its internal inconsistencies and present an honest picture of the shuttle's reliability. Feynman soon found that, while he respected the intellects of his fellow Commission members, they universally finished their criticisms of NASA with clear affirmations that the Challenger disaster should be addressed by NASA internally, but that there was no need for NASA to suspend its operations or to receive less funding. Feynman felt that the Commission's conclusions were not compatible with its findings, and could not in good conscience recommend that such a deeply flawed organization should continue without a suspension of operations and a major overhaul. His fellow commission members were alarmed by Feynman's dissension, and it was only after much petitioning that Feynman's minority report was included at all: as an appendix to the official document. Feynman's book What Do You Care What Other People Think? included a copy of the appendix in addition to his narrative account.


First-day covers for the American Scientists commemorative stamp set.
First-day covers for the American Scientists commemorative stamp set.

On May 4, 2005 the United States Postal Service issued the American Scientists commemorative set of four 37-cent self-adhesive stamps in several configurations. The scientists depicted were Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, Barbara McClintock and Josiah Willard Gibbs. Feynman's stamp, sepia-toned, features a photograph of a 30-something Feynman and eight small Feynman diagrams.

A shuttlecraft named after Feynman appeared in two episodes of the science fiction television show Star Trek: The Next Generation ("The Nth Degree," 1991; "Chain of Command, Part 1," 1992). An error in the art department, however, caused the shuttle name to be misspelled, "FEYMAN."

Feynman appears in the fiction book The Diamond Age as one of the heroes of the world where nanotechnology is ubiquitous. His relationship with his first wife Arline, who died during the Manhattan Project, is portrayed in the 1996 movie Infinity.

Apple's "Think Different" ad campaign featured photo portraits of Feynman that appeared in magazines and on posters and billboards. (Curiously, the ad shows Feynman wearing a Thinking Machines T-shirt.)

See also

  • Stückelberg-Feynman interpretation
  • Feynman point
  • Feynman sprinkler


  1. ^ Obituary Feynman Online.
  2. ^ (1972) Nobel Lectures, Physics 1963-1970, Richard P. Feynman: The Nobel Prize in Physics: 1965 Biography. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company.
  3. ^ J.J. O'Connor and E.F. Robertson (2002-08). Richard Phillips Feynman. University of St. Andrews. Retrieved on 9 November 2006.
  4. ^ a b Gleick, James (1992). Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon, p. 30. ISBN 0-679-40836-3.
  5. ^ Stefan Kanfer (2005). The Columbian Cartel. The City Journal. Retrieved on 9 November 2006.
  6. ^ Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures, Cambridge University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-521-34000-4
  7. ^ The Road from Los Alamos (Masters of Modern Physics vol. 2), Hans A. Bethe, p.241, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1991, ISBN 0-671-74012-1
  8. ^ Background information on the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics, Cecilia Jarlskog, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  9. ^ Selected Papers on Quantum Electrodynamics (Bethe, Bloch, Dirac, Dyson, Feynman, Fermi, Heisenberg, Jordan, Klein, Lamb, Oppenheimer, Pauli, Rutherford, Schwinger, Tomonaga, Weisskopf, Wigner, and many others), edited by Julian Schwinger, Dover, 1958, ISBN 0-486-60444-6
  10. ^ Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals (with Albert Hibbs), McGraw Hill, 1965, ISBN 0-07-020650-3
  11. ^ Theory of Fundamental Processes, Addison Wesley, 1961, ISBN 0-8053-2507-7
  12. ^ Lectures on Gravitation, Addison Wesley Longman, 1995, ISBN 0-201-62734-5
  13. ^ The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition (with Leighton and Sands). Originally published as separate volumes in 1964 and 1966, and as a set since 1970. 3 volumes, Addison Wesley, 2nd edition 2005, ISBN 0-8053-9045-6. Includes Feynman’s Tips on Physics, a set of four previously unreleased lectures on problem solving.
  14. ^ W. Daniel Hillis (1989-02). Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine. Physics Today. Retrieved on 03 November 2006.
  15. ^ Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard P. Feynman, edited by Michelle Feynman, foreword by Timothy Ferris, Basic Books, 2005, ISBN 0-7382-0636-9.
  16. ^ Tuva Or Bust!, Ralph Leighton, W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-32069-3


  • The Character of Physical Law, The 1964 Messenger Lectures, MIT Press, 1967, ISBN 0-262-56003-8
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition (with Leighton and Sands). Originally published as separate volumes in 1964 and 1966, and as a set since 1970. 3 volumes, Addison Wesley, 2nd edition 2005, ISBN 0-8053-9045-6. Includes Feynman’s Tips on Physics, a set of four previously unreleased lectures on problem solving.
  • Quantum Electrodynamics, Addison Wesley, 1985, ISBN 0-8053-2501-8
  • Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics: The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures, Cambridge University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-521-34000-4
  • Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, Perseus Books, 1994, ISBN 0-201-40955-0
  • Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein’s Relativity, Symmetry and Space-Time, Addison Wesley, 1997, ISBN 0-201-15026-3
  • Feynman’s Tips On Physics: A Problem-Solving Supplement to the Feynman Lectures On Physics, Addison Wesley, 2005, ISBN 0-8053-9063-4

Further reading

The Feynman Lectures on Physics are perhaps his most accessible work for anyone with an interest in physics, compiled from lectures to Caltech undergraduates in 1962. As news of the lectures' lucidity grew, a large number of professional physicists began to drop in to listen. Physicist Robert B. Leighton edited them into book form. The work has endured, and is useful to this day. They were edited and supplemented in 2005 with "Feynman's Tips on Physics: A Problem-Solving Supplement to the Feynman Lectures on Physics" by Michael Gottlieb and Ralph Leighton (Robert Leighton's son), with support from Kip Thorne and other physicists.

Popular works by and about Feynman

  • The Character of Physical Law, a book of some of Feynman's lectures on the Laws of Physics.
  • Disturbing the Universe, Freeman Dyson, Harper and Row, 1979, ISBN 0-06-011108-9. Dyson’s autobiography. The chapters “A Scientific Apprenticeship” and “A Ride to Albuquerque” describe his impressions of Feynman in the period 1947-48 when Dyson was a graduate student at Cornell.
  • Physics Today, American Institute of Physics magazine, February 1989 Issue. (Vol.42, No.2.) Special Feynman memorial issue containing non-technical articles on Feynman's life and work in physics.
  • Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character, edited by Ralph Leighton, W. W. Norton, 2005, ISBN 0-393-06132-9. Chronologically reordered omnibus volume of Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, with a bundled CD containing one of Feynman’s signature lectures.
  • Don't You Have Time to Think?, edited and with additional commentary by Michelle Feynman, Allen Lane, 2005, ISBN 0-7139-9847-4
  • Feynman's Rainbow A Search For Beauty In Physics And In Life, written by Leonard Mlodinow, Warner Books, 2003, ISBN 0-446-69251-4

Audio recordings

  • Safecracker Suite (a collection of drum pieces interspersed with Feynman telling anecdotes)
  • Six Easy Pieces (original lectures upon which the book is based)
  • Six Not So Easy Pieces (original lectures upon which the book is based)
  • The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Complete Audio Collection
    • Quantum Mechanics, Volume 1
    • Advanced Quantum Mechanics, Volume 2
    • From Crystal Structure to Magnetism, Volume 3
    • Electrical and Magnetic Behavior, Volume 4
    • Feynman on Fundamentals: Energy and Motion, Volume 5
    • Feynman on Fundamentals: Kinetics and Heat, Volume 6
    • Feynman on Science and Vision, Volume 7
    • Feynman on Gravity, Relativity and Electromagnetism, Volume 8
    • Basic Concepts in Classical Physics, Volume 9
    • Basic Concepts in Quantum Physics, Volume 10
    • Feynman on Science and Vision, Volume 11
    • Feynman on Sound, Volume 12
    • Feynman on Fields, Volume 13
    • Feynman on Electricity and Magnetism, Part 1, Volume 14
    • Feynman on Electricity and Magnetism, Part 2, Volume 15
    • Feynman on Electromagnetism, Volume 16
    • Feynman on Electrodynamics, Volume 17
    • Feynman on Flow, Volume 18
    • Masers and Light, Volume 19
    • The Very Best Lectures, Volume 20
  • Samples of Feynman's drumming, chanting and speech are included in the songs "Tuva Groove (Bolur Daa-Bol, Bolbas Daa-Bol)" and "Kargyraa Rap (Dürgen Chugaa)" on the album Back Tuva Future, The Adventure Continues by Kongar-ol Ondar. The hidden track on this album also includes excerpts from lectures without musical background.

Video recordings

  • The Messenger Lectures (1964) (See also the book The Character of Physical Law)
    • The Law of Gravitation
    • The Relation of Mathematics to Physics
    • The Great Conservation Principles
    • Symmetry in Physical Law
    • The Distinction of Past and Future
    • Probability and Uncertainty - The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature
    • Seeking New Laws
  • QED in New Zealand (1979)
  • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1981)
  • Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics (1986)

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Richard Feynman
  • The Feynman Lectures Website
  • Lectures: Physics, Nanotechnology, Essays: On High School Math Textbooks, On Teaching
  • Feynman Books, Audio, Video and More on The Tuva Trader.
  • Freeview videos of Feynman's lectures on QED courtesy of The Vega Science Trust and The University of Auckland
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory Richard Feynman page
  • About Richard Feynman
  • Feynman's classic 1959 talk:There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom
  • PhysicsWeb review of the play QED
  • BBC Horizon: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out at Google Video
    • OneGoodMove — The above interview in shorter subject-based clips
  • Feynman's Scientific Publications
  • The Letters of Richard P. Feynman Online
  • A Feynman Resource site - Articles, anecdotes, letters and other informative materials to occupy the curious minds like news/rss feeds, jokes, trivia questions and more.
  • A Biography of R. P. Feynman as a mathematician
  • Annotated bibliography for Richard Feynman from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
  • Excerpt from Genius


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