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Richard Feynman (1918–1988)

While working on the atomic bomb project, Richard Feynman spent his spare time picking the locks on classified filing cabinets-and leave teasing messages for the security officers.

Feynman was initially concerned about working on the Manhattan Project, but soon became fascinated by the scientific problems involved. Feynman soon became the head of the computational group in the theoretical physics section, but also worked on developing safer ways of storing radioactive materials.

After the war, Feynman ended up at Caltech, where he developed his greatest work, Quantum Electrodynamics or QED. This theory describes how light interacts with matter, showing, amongst other things, how antimatter can be described as ordinary matter travelling backwards in time!

Feynman was awarded the 1965 Nobel prize for QED, along with Julian Schwinger and Shinichiro Tomonaga. However Feynman publicly described the Nobel Prize as a "pain in the neck". Feynman's vanity made him afraid that his reputation depended on his status as a Nobel laureate. However, it is clear that his popularity depended on many other factors such as his sense of humour, his insatiable curiosity and the breadth of his theoretical insight.

In his later years, Feynman achieved new prominence in his role on the committee investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. His thoroughness led Feynman to discover the cause of the accident—a frozen O-ring. His showmanship led Feynman to announce this on television, dropping an O-ring into a glass of ice water, and then shattering it on the table.

Feynman loved teaching, and continued working with his students until two weeks before his death from cancer.

Richard Feynman
magnifyRichard Feynman

A Feynman diagram
A Feynman diagram

Space Shuttle Challenger explosion
magnifySpace Shuttle Challenger explosion
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