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Richard Phillips Feynman (1918-1988)

Photo
Photo B3; lecturing,
University of Rochester,
Rochester, NY
CREDIT: Linn Duncan,
University of Rochester,
courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives

"The adventure of our science of physics is a perpetual attempt to recognize that the different aspects of nature are really different aspects of the same thing" -- Richard Feynman

Photo
Photo B18;
Credit: Copyright Tamiko Thiel,
courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives, Physics Today
Collection; please contact
Tamiko Thiel for reproductions
and permissions

Feynman was known to be passionate about drumming, but he was irritated when people found this surprising in a famous scientist. In 1966 a Swedish encyclopedia publisher wrote asking for a photograph of Feynman "beating the drum" to give "a human approach to a presentation of the difficult matter that theoretical physics represents." This was his reply:

Dear Sir,

The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings, and the perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me.

I am human enough to tell you to go to hell.

Yours,
RPF

Letter from Christopher Sykes' No Ordinary Genius. Reprinted courtesy of Carl and Michelle Feynman.


Feynman is especially admired by science students for his published lectures on first-year physics, with striking insights into the way a great theorist thinks about even the most elementary physics problems. Alan Harris writes:

"Perhaps my most striking memory of a Feynman lecture was not of one I attended, but of one being prepared for the class ahead of me. I was doing my weekly lab work in the freshman physics lab. At one point, as I walked out into the hall to get a drink of water, I heard a familiar voice coming from the lecture room at the other end of the hall. I peeked in to discover Feynman practicing to an empty lecture hall the lecture he was to deliver an hour or so later. It was a full dress rehearsal, with all the gestures, enthusiasm, and chalkboard notations. The excellent choreography [of his lectures] was no accident. What impressed me so deeply was that here was the world's most famous living physicist taking such care to present this material to lower-division undergraduates."

Physics Today (Nov. 2005), p. 12

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