Born: May 11, 1918
Born Place: New York, New York, United States
Died: February 15, 1988
Death Place: Los Angeles, California, United States
Spouse: Arline Greenbaum (m. 1941; died 1945) || Mary Louise Bell (m. 1952–1956) || Gweneth Howarth (m. 1960)
- Albert Einstein Award (1954)
- E. O. Lawrence Award (1962)
- Nobel Prize in Physics (1965)
- Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1965)
- Oersted Medal (1972)
- National Medal of Science (1979)
Richard Phillips Feynman ForMemRS (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as his work in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga.
Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World, he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.
He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He held the Richard C. Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures, including a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom and the three-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman also became known through his semi-autobiographical books Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and books written about him such as Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton and the biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick.
Feynman was born on May 11, 1918, in Queens, New York City, to Lucille née Phillips, a homemaker, and Melville Arthur Feynman, a sales manager originally from Minsk in Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire). Feynman was a late talker, and did not speak until after his third birthday. As an adult he spoke with a New York accent strong enough to be perceived as an affectation or exaggeration —so much so that his friends Wolfgang Pauli and Hans Bethe once commented that Feynman spoke like a “bum”. The young Feynman was heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking, and who was always ready to teach Feynman something new. From his mother, he gained the sense of humor that he had throughout his life. As a child, he had a talent for engineering, maintained an experimental laboratory in his home, and delighted in repairing radios. When he was in grade school, he created a home burglar alarm system while his parents were out for the day running errands.
When Richard was five his mother gave birth to a younger brother, Henry Phillips, who died at age four weeks. Four years later, Richard’s sister Joan was born and the family moved to Far Rockaway, Queens. Though separated by nine years, Joan and Richard were close, and they both shared a curiosity about the world. Though their mother thought women lacked the capacity to understand such things, Richard encouraged Joan’s interest in astronomy, and Joan eventually became an astrophysicist.
In 1978, Feynman sought medical treatment for abdominal pains and was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Surgeons removed a tumor the size of a football that had crushed one kidney and his spleen. Further operations were performed in October 1986 and October 1987. He was again hospitalized at the UCLA Medical Center on February 3, 1988. A ruptured duodenal ulcer caused kidney failure, and he declined to undergo the dialysis that might have prolonged his life for a few months. Watched over by his wife Gweneth, sister Joan, and cousin Frances Lewine, he died on February 15, 1988, at age 69.
When Feynman was nearing death, he asked his friend and colleague Danny Hillis why Hillis appeared so sad. Hillis replied that he thought Feynman was going to die soon. Feynman said that this sometimes bothered him, too, adding, when you get to be as old as he was, and have told so many stories to so many people, even when he was dead he would not be completely gone.
Near the end of his life, Feynman attempted to visit the Tuvan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in Russia, a dream thwarted by Cold War bureaucratic issues. The letter from the Soviet government authorizing the trip was not received until the day after he died. His daughter Michelle later made the journey.
His burial was at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum in Altadena, California. His last words were: “I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.”