Useful Notes: Richard Feynman
"On the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics."
"If that's the world's smartest man, God help us."
—Lucille Feynman, on Omni magazine naming her son the world's smartest man.
Drummer, lockpicker, artist, teacher, and raconteur... who also won a Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics. Richard Feynman (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was considered one of the greatest scientific minds since Einstein
. Even more than his contributions to science (which are numerous and varied), though, he is best remembered today as a personality,
an irreverent, skeptical, iconoclastic embodiment of what a real scientist ought to be.
Born in Far Rockaway, New York in 1918, Feynman showed a passion for science at an early age. Much of his bedroom was taken up with electrical apparatus, and he often made pocket money by fixing radios. He attended MIT, and had nearly finished his postgraduate work at Princeton when he was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.
As the youngest group leader at Los Alamos, he was often sought out by the older, more eminent scientists as a sounding board, because he was one of the few young physicists who wasn't too awestruck to disagree with them. During this time, he also became skilled at picking locks and breaking into safes, usually by guessing (he would note that some of them were frighteningly easy to figure out
considering what they were supposed to protect) or stealing the combination. He would later brag that he had opened safes containing the greatest treasure of all time: the secrets of the atomic bomb.
Given both his importance in history and his larger than life personality — and the fact that a lot of the current generation of science fiction writers read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman
at an impressionable age — he's becoming increasingly popular as a Historical-Domain Character
Richard Feynman in fiction and pop culture:
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- Played by Matthew Broderick in the 1996 film Infinity, about Feynman's marriage to first wife Arline. It is based mostly on the first half of Feynman's second memoir What Do You Care What Other People Think?
Live Action TV
- Played by William Hurt in The Challenger Disaster, a Made-for-TV movie about the investigation into the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It is based largely on the second half of his second memoir What Do You Care What Other People Think?
- Feynman fanboy Alan Alda produced and starred in QED, a play about Feynman set in his later years.
- Zombie Feynman made an appearance in xkcd as a zombie.