Richard Feynman Biography

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning American physicist who proposed the theory of quantum electrodynamics. To know more about his childhood, career, profile and timeline read on

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Richard Phillips Feynman

Famous as: Physicist

Nationality: American

Birthday: May 11, 1918

Died At Age: 69

Sun Sign: Taurus

Height: 1.83 m

Born in: Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States

father: Melville Feynman

mother: Lucille Phillips

siblings: Joan Feynman

Spouse/Ex-spouse: Arline Greenbaum, Gweneth Howarth, Mary Louise Bell

children: Carl Feynman, Michelle Louise Feynman

religion: Atheism

Died on: February 15, 1988

place of death: Los Angeles

Personality: ENTP

City, States, Provinces & Districts: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: 1942 - Princeton University, 1939 - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Far Rockaway High School

awards: 1965 - Nobel Prize in Physics
Oersted Medal
1954 - Albert Einstein Award

1980 - National Medal of Science for Physical Science
1965 - Foreign Member of the Royal Society

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Richard Feynman was an American physicist specializing in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, and particle physics. After growing up in Queens, New York City, he went on to receive his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree from Princeton University. He used his gained expertise in physics to contribute to the development of the atomic bomb, in what was called the Manhattan Project, during World War II. Working with other professionals in his field, he went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics for research on quantum electrodynamics. Another significant study which he undertook is the super-fluidity in super-cooled liquid helium. The Feynman diagrams as they are now known was a concept developed by this eminent scientist; the diagrams are used to pictorially represent the behavior of sub-atomic particles. Dabbling with particle physics, he came up with the Parton model. He later became credited with expanding physics research to the world of modern technologies through the creation of quantum computing and his theories concerning nanotechnology. Over the course of his career, Feynman took on a number of assistantships and appointed positions at various prestigious institutions across the country. He presented lectures, which were later published and are now considered one of the most well-known books ever written on physics. Read on to know more about his life and works

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Richard Feynman
Childhood & Early Life
  • Richard Phillip Feynman was born on May 11, 1918 in New York City, the eldest child of father Melville and mother Lucille.
  • Lucille gave birth to another boy, who died at only four weeks old, and a girl named Joan.
  • He attended ‘Far Rockaway High School’ from 1931-1935, and then attended the ‘Massachusetts Institute of Technology’.
  • In 1939, he was named a Putnam Fellow for a top five performance in the ‘William Putnam Lowell Mathematical Competition’, one of the most prestigious academic competitions in the US and Canada.
  • He continued his studies at Princeton, where he was surrounded by peers in the field such as Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Archibald Wheeler.
  • He completed a thesis entitled ‘The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics’ in 1942, with Wheeler as his advisor.
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  • Upon completing his thesis in 1942, Feynman was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at the ‘University of Wisconsin’, Madison.
  • Later that year, he was asked to join the ‘Manhattan Project’ in Los Alamos, New Mexico for work on perfecting the atomic bomb before the Germans.
  • His responsibilities on the project included calculating neutron equations for nuclear reactors and developing safety procedures for the storage of project materials until its completion in 1945.
  • His career then became a string of prestigious assistantships and professorships at competing universities, first as Professor of Theoretical Physics at ‘Cornell University’ from 1945-1950.
  • In 1948, he published his representations of mathematical sequences of subatomic particles, named the ‘Feynman Diagrams’, contributing to the understanding of quantum field and solid-state theories.
  • For nine years after, he was appointed Professor of Theoretical Physics at the ‘California Institute of Technology’, from 1950-1959.
  • The physicist dedicated research to breakthroughs in superfluidity of super cold liquid helium and “weak decay,” competing against his contemporaries in the field.
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  • In the 1960s, he helped to revamp Caltech’s physics department by delivering a series of lectures and introductory level explanations to freshman at the university. These lectures were written and published as a set of textbooks called ‘The Feynman Lectures of Physics’.
  • He was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on quantum electrodynamics which expanded upon his thesis.
  • In 1985, he published a book of stories of his life and career, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, which reached the national bestseller list.
  • In 1986 he was invited to investigate the explosion of NASA space shuttle Challenger, and Richard ascertained that the fatal explosion was caused due to low launch day temperatures.
  • In a televised demonstration, Feynman showed that the rubber rings that sealed the joints of the spacecraft were unable to expand quickly enough in the low temperatures.
  • His findings shed scientific and political light on the matter, and this was his final major contribution to the field of physics.
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Major Works
  • He completed his thesis ‘The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Physics’ which laid the foundation for his Nobel Prize winning work on quantum electrodynamics. The theory consisted of two parts, while the first catered to path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the other dealt with pictorial representation of sub-atomic particles, better known as the ‘Feynman Diagrams’.
  • ‘The Feynman Lectures of Physics’ was published in 1964 from a series given at Caltech, becoming arguably the most popular physics textbooks.
Awards & Achievements
  • Feynman was honored with several awards and achievements during his lifetime, for his contribution to scientific advancement. He received the prestigious ‘Albert Einstein Award’ and ‘E.O. Lawrence Award’.
  • He was lauded with the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his work on quantum electrodynamics.
  • He won the ‘Oersted Medal’ in 1972 for being an outstanding teacher of physics.
  • He won the ‘National Medal of Science’ for contributions to physics in 1979.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • Feynman was married to his high-school sweetheart Arline Greenbaum until her death from tuberculosis in 1945. The demise of his wife caused much emotional turmoil in Richard’s life and the personal guilt for having made a contribution towards the destructive atomic bomb threw him into depression for some years.
  • In 1950, he married again, this time to a woman named Mary Louise Bell; however, the relationship ended in divorce shortly after.
  • He met Gweneth Howarth at a European conference, whom he married in 1960 after Gweneth was approved for US citizenship. Together, the two had a son Carl and adopted a daughter Michelle.
  • It was later discovered that he had abdominal cancer, which he battled while performing investigative work on the Challenger. Near the end of his life, he took up art and became particularly interested in drawing portraits.
  • In 1987, his cancer was treated surgically but it led to further complications and hospitalization.
  • He fought through tumors, ulcers, and kidney failure until his death on February 15, 1988, at 69.
  • During his years at Caltech, Feynman offered prizes for creating the world’s smallest motor and writing the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica on a pinhead

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- Richard Feynman Biography
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Last Updated
- July 26, 2017

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