Richard Feynman's 100th birthday is a celebration of science

This week marks what would be the 100th birthday of legendary American physicist Richard P. Feynman. In a world in w...

Posted: May 13, 2018 7:13 PM
Updated: May 14, 2018 5:18 PM

This week marks what would be the 100th birthday of legendary American physicist Richard P. Feynman. In a world in which many people think of the socially awkward Sheldon Cooper in the television show The Big Bang Theory as being a typical scientist, Feynman was the quite the opposite. And he should be remembered as one of the most brilliant and impactful physicists of the 20th century.

The public met him in his 1985 book Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, in which he regaled the reader with anecdotes of a colorful and well-enjoyed life. Feynman was a bon vivant, with an affinity for samba music, art, strip clubs and playing the bongos. He was also a successful ladies' man.

There are those who have claimed that he was sexist, but the truth is subtler. He encouraged his sister to study physics, he advocated for both male and female students, and in the 1970s he supported a fellow female faculty member who he felt had been discriminated against due to gender. (She won her lawsuit in part due to his backing.) He certainly was a product of his time, but his attitudes towards women were not unusual for the era.

Feynman was certainly one of the most brilliant scientific minds of the 20th century, with an impact eclipsed perhaps only by Einstein. He was born in Queens, New York, to immigrant parents. His advanced academic life began when he attended college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by graduate study at Princeton University, where he achieved a perfect score on the physics entrance exams. The bulk of his career was spent at Cornell University and California Institute of Technology.

His fertile mind generated many innovative ideas in physics, but his most renowned work was in helping to craft the theory of Quantum ElectroDynamics, or QED. QED is an advanced theory of electromagnetism and it incorporates quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of special relativity. This esoteric theory explains the behavior of subatomic particles under extreme conditions and is the fundamental underpinnings of all modern physics theories. It was originally formulated in 1948 by a coterie of theoretical physicists.

Feynman made many important technical additions to the theory, but probably his most impactful contribution was what are now called Feynman diagrams. Feynman diagrams are just little cartoons that show how subatomic particles interact. Basically, they are little stick figures, the simplest of which show two particles approaching one another, then one of them shoots a third particle at the other, and then both particles recoil and move off in a different direction.

The brilliance behind Feynman diagrams is that each line in the stick figure comes with an associated mathematical equation. And now that means that anybody can draw a series of these cartoons for any imagined subatomic interaction and then a sufficiently trained scientist could convert the diagrams to equations and then solve them. Certainly, Feynman diagrams made it much easier to learn this very advanced physics for me and others of my generation.

Feynman's contribution to the development of QED led to the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Julian Schwinger and Shin'ichir- Tomonaga.

Feynman's ability to simplify and clarify ideas are exemplified in what are now called the Feynman Lectures. These lectures were given in 1961 -- 1963 at Caltech and are perhaps the most famous set of pedagogical physics presentations ever given. The intended audience is physics students and not casual scholars, but they are fascinating reading and well worth your time if you want to learn physics from the master.

He also served on the Rogers Commission, which investigated the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Challenger exploded shortly after it launched on a cold January day. Although seriously ill with cancer, Feynman wanted to get to the bottom of the tragedy. It was suggested to him by people with technical knowledge of the engineering of the space shuttle that O-ring gaskets used to seal joints between shuttle components were not tested at low temperatures. During a televised hearing, Feynman -- who always had a flair for the dramatic -- dipped a sample O-ring in ice water and then showed that it lost its ability to seal cracks. It was eventually concluded that O-ring failure was the root cause of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, along with the entire crew.

Reading of Feynman's free-wheeling life can be fun, but that's not what he was really about. Instead, his true legacy can be found in his writings, both technical and those aimed at the community of non-scientists. It might be said that his guiding principle was to seek the truth, whatever it might be, and to be open to the idea that you might be wrong. Perhaps he said it most succinctly in his essay, Cargo Cult Science. He wrote that "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself -- and you are the easiest person to fool." It's a good reminder for all of us.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 45°
Angola
Clear
43° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 43°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 42°
Decatur
Clear
45° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 45°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
42° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 42°
High pressure will pave the way to another mostly sunny and pleasant day.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events