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Famous physicists: Richard Feynman

A Nobel Prize-winning physicist, safe-cracker, drummer and juggler who worked on the atomic bomb, Richard P. Feynman was one of the most extraordinary scientists of the 20th century.

His most important work was in quantum electrodynamics. This theory was the first to successfully combine quantum mechanics and special relativity, and won him the Nobel Prize for Physics along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga,

His other breakthroughs include the physics of superfluids – fluids with zero viscosity which behave in strange ways, like climbing up the sides of a beaker – and introducing the idea of nanotechnology.

But Feynman isn’t just known for his research: his passion, sense of humour and eccentricity made him one of the most popular teachers and communicators in science.

This summary of the scientific method is typical of his straightforward approach:

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

The key to Feynman’s scientific success might have been his curious mind. While working on the atomic bomb in a secret facility, he taught himself how to break into the “secure” filing cabinets that held the project’s secrets. Luckily for the US government, he only did it to entertain himself…

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