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Feynman’s method

Feynman’s method

Robert Feynman was born on May 11 1918 in Queens on the outskirts of New York. His parents Melville Arthur Feynman and his wife Lucille were from Minsk. Richard was their first child. Richard’s father predicted that his first son will be the greatest scientist. Melville himself wanted to become a scientist. He was born in Minsk in the end of the XIXth century. His son managed to make a successful career as a scientist: Richard Feynman got the Nobel Prize and became an outstanding physicist. His discoveries changed the world. He was also a perfect storyteller as his lectures were as popular as rock-star’s concerts. He managed to change the notion of physics: previously it was known as a “dry and boring stcience” which was definitely a lie. Richard have been thanking his father throughout his life for being able to bring up such a genius.

Nastassia Kostukovich

The father of a future Nobel prize winner Melville Feynman was born in 1890 in Minsk in a quiet rich Jewish family. When he was five years old his parents decided to move to the USA for a better life. The Feynman family settled in Patchogue, Long Island.  Melville was a true scientist: he was interested in all subjects and finished school with honors. He dreamt of getting a diploma in medicine. But, because of financial problems in his family Melville changed his mind and engaged himself in homeopathy.  He met his future wife at the school-leaving party. It was love at first sight. He became a father at age of 28. Melville decided to find more profitable business to support his family. So, he became the head of sales department at the uniform factory. He was working very hard so even in times of the Great Depression his family was living in comfort. But the main thing was that Melville had a lot of money to provide his son with education so that in future he could become a scientist and be engaged in something more sublime than trade.

A father for a genius

In his famous bookSurely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!»Richard will write: “ My father was always interested in magic and carnival magic tricks. He wanted to know how they are done.”  It was Richard’s father who not only passed his genes but also have been cultivating passion for knowledge in his son from early childhood. Richard Feynman claimed that the interest in natural sciences descended from his father and to his father from his grandfather.  As all other children were having fun Riddy (that was his nickname at home) went to the Natural History Museum. Instead of bed-time stories Richard was listening to articles from encyclopedia “Britannica”. As his father had spent many years in uniform-trade he taught his son that the appearances are deceitful and that he must study the  nature of things. Richard’s father usually encouraged him for conducting experiments in electrical engineering including the dangerous ones. Richard conducted his experiments in his home laboratory which was directly connected to the house’s electrical wiring. When Richard’s younger sister Joanne was allowed to take part in her brother’s experiments she could have four cents for accepting to put her finger between two electrodes. Riddy’s friends were very happy when watching his sister bearing a light electric shock.  

Melville was not a kind of father who made his son learning all universal truths by heart.   He was just having long conversations with Richard about everything that surrounds him.  When remembering his conversations with father the greatest scientist said: «Only exciting discussions”.

Nobel Prize winner

Richard grew up as a wunderkind. Having changed encyclopedia “Britannica” to an old textbook on algebra, which he found on an attic he soon became the captain of the algebra school team.  It happened because Richard found out that he is able to solve the hardest mathematical problems without using difficult calculations. At age of 15 Feynman could use differential and integral calculus. He finished secondary school with honors. Richard used to call it “intellectual desolation”.  When studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Richard has switched to several majors (electrical engineering, mathematics and finally physics). In his thesis research named “Forces in Molecules” he provided an original quantum mechanical approach for calculating molecular forces.  It was clear that after leaving the institute this young man will revolutionize the scientific world.  

When sitting in a university café in 1947 Richard saw a young man throwing up a plate for fun. Being bored Richard decided to think about the nature of the spinning plate’s motion followed by jiggle. So, ‘he derived equation describing its flight. Later he applied it to electron spin. Afterwards he wrote: «I wasn’t doing anything important, but later I realized that all the diagrams, all this stuff for which I received the Nobel prize came from this trifling  jiggling plate”. That is how Richard being only 30 years old came closer to the future triumph – The Nobel Prize. In the early morning the phone rang and Richard heard that he is the 1965 Nobel Prize winner in physics. Being a famous humorist he thought that it is a joke, said some swear words and went back to sleep…

His father’s son

Many intellectual discoveries made by Richard Feynman a son of a former Minsker who died before his son got the Nobel Prize became the inalienable part of modern science. They are named after Feynman: Feynman’s diagrams, Feynman’s integral, Feynman’s rules, Feynman’s scaling… Once his ideas were science fiction but they became true in decades.

Another important discovery is that according to Feynman  theoretical physics can be exciting not boring.  He was the only person who managed to reborn physics using his famous “Feynman’s Lectures”. Just like his father, Richard was trying to teach his students to think, to reject any theory without conducting an experiment, cherish nature and love science. He managed to teach generations of students to look at physics from a different angle. Feynman himself used to say that perhaps his lectures will become a highly memorable contribution to physics. He was right! Over half a century the most famous course is still the best compilation on physics.

After Richard Feynman’s death one of his biographers doubted that Richard’s father, an immigrant without higher education, who came from far-away Minsk could have such extraordinary skills for brining up a genius. Richard’s younger sister Joanne ( the one that used to put her finger between two electrodes. At that time she became the Doctor of Physics and the Senior Researcher at The Jet Propulsion Laboratory who received NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal ) objected confidently: «Our father was exactly this kind of man!!»

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