Uploaded by swandawg11 on Oct 26, 2011
This paper gives a biography of physicist Richard Feynman, and explains what his life and accomplishments tell us about the structure of scientific inquire in the United States. (8 pages; 2 sources; end notes)
Richard Feynman (1918-1988) was one of those scientists who achieved not only a great deal of respect from his peers, but also “crossed over” into mainstream American culture to the extent that many non-scientists at least knew his name.
Feynman worked to develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in physics, and was the person who solved the mystery of the Challenger explosion. He seems to have what I can only describe as “fans”: there are tons of websites devoted to him, his work, his life, and his somewhat unorthodox non-scientific pursuits (he was an artist, storyteller, Mayan hieroglyphics translator and safe-cracker!)
This paper will look at Feynman’s life, which will help us see him in his various roles as “scientist, administrator, strategist, pioneer” and suggest how his experiences can help us understand the “historical structure and organization of American science.”
II Brief Biography
Richard Feynman was born in New York City in 1918. His family was comfortable but not wealthy, and they gave their son a great gift: the confidence to be himself. “As a young man he had the opportunity to learn to work industriously, but without undo pressure to perform. That in itself would be a theme that he'd rediscover periodically over his lifetime. The rewards for his labors were his own. He would be the judge of his own merit. He was a free man. But what to do with his freedom?”
His father, Melville, wanted the boy to be a scientist, but apparently didn’t “push” him hard in that direction. Rather, instead of teaching the boy facts, he encouraged Richard to ask questions. This “intuitive and subtle” approach let the boy become involved in science because he was interested in it, not because he was forced to work in the field. He also learned that it is quite possible to live one’s entire life and never find the answers to the most important questions; what’s important is asking the questions themselves.
Richard’s mother Lucille gave him a gift just as important as his sense of inquiry: a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at himself. Because science requires a great deal of...