Badass Scientist of the Week: Richard Feynman
Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) was perhaps the most original theoretical physicist of his time, best known for his work in quantum mechanics and particle physics. He taught himself elementary mathematics before he learnt it in school, and by fifteen he’d mastered differential and integral calculus. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree at MIT in 1939 (after switching from mathematics to electrical engineering to physics), and then went on to receive his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1942, where he assisted in the development of the atomic bomb project. Feynman soon became head of the theoretical division of the project in Los Alamos. After WWII, he was appointed as a professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University, and in 1950 he moved to Caltech to fill the same position, returning to researching the quantum theory of electrodynamics he’d been working on before the war, including the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and a model of weak decay. He was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1965 with Schwinger and Tomonoga for his fundamental work in this field. His other work included particle spin and a theory of ‘partons’, which led to the current theory of quarks, and he wrote many popular books. He became part of a committee to investigate the explosion on the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and became a public scientific figure, but his health gradually deteriorated. Cancer was found in his abdomen, and he died in 1988. He’s remembered for his insatiable curiosity, gentle wit, brilliant mind and playful temperament.