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Biography of Theoretical Physicist Richard P. Feynman

Updated on May 7, 2013
Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman | Source
Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman

Childhood

Richard P. Feynman was born on May 11th, 1918 in Manhattan, New York City. His parents, Lucille and Melville Feynman, were a homemaker and sales agent, respectively. He was of Russian and Polish decent and his family was Jewish. As a child, Richard's parents encouraged him to become a scientist. Richard was a very intelligent child with a very high IQ. He taught himself various mathematical subjects including trigonometry, advanced algebra, and integral calculus, and repaired radios for extra income. Richard had a younger brother who died soon after being born, and a younger sister, Jean. Although his mother did not believe that women had the mental capacity to understand science, Richard encouraged his younger sister to study astronomy. She later became an astrophysicists, specializing in solar wind.

In school, Richard excelled, often coming up with theories that rattled the conventional thinker. He was a member of the Arista Honor Society during his senior year of high school at Far Rockaway High School, and won the New York University Math Competition by a landslide. He applied to Columbia University, but was not accepted, so he went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology instead.

Personal Life

Richard Feynman has been married three times and has two children. His first marriage was with Arline Greenbaum. Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis and died in 1945. She and Richard were careful so that Richard didn't contract the disease as well. His second marriage with Mary Louise Bell was disastrous and short. She claimed in the divorce that all he thought about was Calculus. His third marriage to Gweneth Howarth resulted in two children. She had a son, which they named Carl and they adopted a girl named Michelle. They remained married until Richard died of cancer in 1988. Gweneth died a year later.

Feynman was a man of many interests. He created a series of artwork under the name of Ofey, and learned to play a frigidiera in samba style. He had a minor part in a film called Anit-Clock. His daughter, Michelle, had a minor part in a movie which portrayed a part of Feynman's life called Infinity. Feynman also wrote a book called Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! In this book, he talks about various aspects and events in his life.

Achievements

Richard Feynman graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with honors with a B.S. in Physics in 1939. He then went on to earn a Doctorate in Physics from Princeton University in 1942. During his time at Princeton, he developed the famous Feynman Diagrams, titled The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics. He was also selected to work on The Manhattan Project. He worked along with Hans Bethe, and together they discovered a formula for calculating the yield of an atomic explosion. His work allowed him to be able to witnessed the first explosion of an atomic bomb in Trinity, New Mexico in 1945.

After earning his Ph.D., he became an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, because of his involvement with the Manhattan Project, he had to take a leave and when he refused to go back to work, they fired him. He later took an appointment with Cornell University and taught theoretical physics from 1945 to 1950. During his time at Cornell University, he fixed flawed equations that led to infinite results and problems with how to handle the self-energy of particles by developing a new theory to renormalize quantum electrodynamics. After Cornell University, he took a position at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). While at CalTech, he did a significant amount of research. He taught students about his path integral formulation and won a Nobel prize (he and his partners) for his theory on quantum electrodynamics. He bought a beach house for his family with his share of the prize money that he earned.


Richard P. Feynman was a revolutionary physicist of his time. His work opened doorways for other physicists to make advancements in the field. He has been labelled as one of the top ten physicists of all time. His work is widely adopted and his work ethic is widely recognized. Feynman is a figure that will never be forgotten in the scientific community.

Lecture By Richard Feynman

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    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 20 months ago from Auburn, WA

      I didn't know much about Feynman, other than knowing he did work on the Manhattan Project. That and what I hear his name mentioned on The Big Bang Theory. So the hub was very informative. Thx. Sharing everywhere.

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