Who is Richard Feynman?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Richard Feynman (1918 — 1988) is regarded by many as the best physics teacher of the 20th century. He is best known for his highly accessible The Feynman Lectures on Physics, his work on the atomic bomb and his huge contributions to the field of quantum electrodynamics. Feynman was also the first to conceive of nanotechnology and the quantum computer, as well as an adventurer and traveler with a fondness for playing the drums.

Feynman got his bachelor's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939, followed by his PhD at Princeton University in 1942, where he studied under the famous John Archibald Wheeler. Feynman then went to work on the Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb, where he became a friend of laboratory head J. Robert Oppenheimer. After the war, he taught as a professor for a brief stint at Cornell University, followed by a transfer to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he stayed for many years. Feynman shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1965 with two other researchers. He earned the prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics.


After World War II, Feynman was offered a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, possibly the most famous research institute of the 20th century. He declined due to his love of teaching. Feynman's clear, down-to-earth explanations of complicated concepts earned him the nickname "The Great Explainer." His lectures on physics were read far outside the circles of his students and even the entire body of physics undergraduates. He had eccentric qualities and was a fun-loving free spirit. Books published on his adventures include Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, What Do You Care What Other People Think? and Tuva Or Bust!

Feynman is known for his Feynman diagrams, simple pictorial descriptions of particle interactions. Despite the simplicity of these diagrams, they are associated with theoretical material credited with some of the most accurate predictions in physics. Feynman was the only one of those he shared the Nobel Prize with to make an attempt to present the complexities of particle physics in a simple format. Feynman studied superconductivity, superfluidity and weak decay. Most of his work has been extended by present-day physicists and is still cited very widely. He died of cancer in 1988 in Los Angeles. His last words were, "I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."


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