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Feynman, Richard Phillips

physics theory particle technology

[fiyn man] (1918–88) US theoretical physicist: developer of mathematical theory of particle physics.

Feynman’s father, a New York maker of uniforms, developed the boy’s interest in scientific ideas and logical observation. The young man graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Princeton, worked on the atomic bomb (the Manhattan project) and later joined the staff of the California Institute of Technology.

During the late 1940s Feynman developed new techniques for considering electromagnetic interactions within quantum theory, contributing methods on field theory which have been used widely. He showed that the interaction between electrons (or between positrons, the positively charged antiparticle to an electron, see ) could be considered by regarding them as exchanging virtual photons (electromagnetic radiation). This electron–electron scattering can be described quantitatively as a sum of terms, with each term coming from a matrix element describing a topologically distinct way in which a photon can be exchanged. Each term can be written as a Feynman diagram consisting of lines, called Feynman propagators, which describe the exchange of particles. This work contributed greatly to a new theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which deals with nuclear particle interactions and which is in excellent agreement with experiment. Feynman received the 1965 Nobel Prize for physics for fundamental work on QED, together .

Feynman was a colourful character in modern physics whose originality and showmanship made him a highly regarded lecturer (Feynman’s Lectures in Physics are a delight to students). He enthused over any kind of puzzle and enjoyed the company of a wide variety of people; he was renowned as a storyteller and practical joker. His recreations he listed as ‘Mayan hieroglyphics, opening safes, playing bongo drums, drawing, biology experiments and computer science’. One of his few antagonisms was pomposity. When authority tried to close a topless restaurant in Pasadena, he went to court to defend it, and claimed to use it frequently to work on physics.

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