Posted on May 11, 2014
Today is Mother's Day in the U.S.A. (see below), and I am a mother, so I am pleased to bring to your attention one of my favorite science characters:
Theoretical physicist, author, and bongo player Richard Feynman.
A theoretical physicist is someone who uses math and abstract models to explore physics – as opposed to an experimental physicist, who designs experiments or plans observations to test hypotheses made about how the universe works.
If you were to ask, “Just what is physics?” I would be tempted to answer EVERYTHING!
Physics is the study of matter and energy. Since everything is matter or energy, that means it is the study of everything, right?
Feynman, who was born in New York City on this date in 1918, worked on quantum mechanics, supercooled liquids, and other important topics. He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and he became well-known as a member of the commission investigating the cause of the Challenger Space Shuttle's disastrous breakup 73 seconds after launch. He actually ended up being the one person who figured out the exact reason for the explosion: he discovered that the rubber O-ring used to seal the solid rocket booster joints failed to expand in freezing temperatures.
He also wrote several popular books, including Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
Oh, that's right—he was presented with a little thing called a Nobel Prize!
Here are some Feynman quotes I like:
“It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.”
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?"
- Here is one about the incredibly complex nature of light, heat, and other electromagnetic waves.
- Here is a much longer video featuring Feynman. Good stuff!
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