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Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman Photo

Richard Phillips Feynman was born on 11th May 1918, in New York, U.S.A. He was a descendant of Russian and Polish Jews immigrants who had settled in the United States in the 19th century.

Feynman studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for his undergraduate thesis he developed an original and stable technique of calculating forces in molecules. In 1942, Feynman completed his doctorate from Princeton University.  It was at Princeton, that he came up with the idea of addressing quantum mechanics under the principle of least action. This idea helped him calculate all the possible directions a particle could while traveling from one point to another.

During WWII Feynman was first recruited by the U.S. atomic bomb project at Princeton University and then sent to join the new secret laboratory at Los Alamos. Here he truly came into his element and became the youngest group head to lead the theoretical division of the Manhattan Project. He then collaborated with Hans Bethe and developed a formula for gauging the energy generated by each nuclear explosion. He also made sweeping changes in the outdated computing devices of the project and replaced them with new calculating machines and human workers. This improved the processing speed and calculations of the massive amounts of numerical computation done for the projects.  When the first test detonation of an atomic bomb was carried out on 16th July 1945, in New Mexico, Feynman felt elated, but over time the magnitude of destructive power he and his colleagues had helped develop made him increasingly anxious.

After the war, Feynman At war’s end Feynman joined Cornell University and resumed his research into the fundamental issues of quantum electrodynamics. Over the years he was frequently reminded of his vision of particle interaction in physics as scientists kept discovering new and obscure domains at subatomic levels. In 1950, Feynman joined the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), as professor of theoretical physics and held this position till the end of his career.

There are basically four achievements of Feynman which truly stand out as the most influential developments in modern physics.

  • First, he corrected the erroneousness of earlier formulations of quantum electrodynamics, the theory explaining the interaction of photons and charged electrons and positrons.
  • Second, he simplified the calculations used for predicting such interactions by developing simple diagrams, now known as Feynman diagrams. These diagrams helped in the easy visualization of graphic analoguesof complicated mathematical expressions used for describing the patterns of interacting particles. This technique is how we still do calculations to this day, although there are some cracks in the wall showing that this formulation may be over-complicating the underlying quantum mechanical behavior of theories.
  • His third achievement, for which he won the Nobel Prize as well, was demonstrating that quantum electrodynamics is an unfailing relativistic theory of electromagnetic interactions. Feynman shared this Nobel Prize with Julian Schwinger and Sin’ichirō
  • His final achievement was the Feynman parton model of hadrons. Proton is a complicated entity made up of three quarks. Feynman developed a model for the proton which can be used to compute predictions for subnuclear interactions of the protons when their constituents are independent particles.

Feynman was an unlikely scientist; he was a passionate and jovial person completely devoid of any false notions of self-importance or superiority. Even today Feynman diagrams, Feynman integrals, and Feynman rules along with Feynman stories are an integral part of any physicists life.

On 15th February 1988, Richard Feynman lost a long and tedious battle with abdominal cancer and died in Los Angeles at the age of 69.

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