Posts Tagged ‘Richard Feynman’

I saw in the paper this morning that today marks the 27th anniversay of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, which happened on the 28th of January 1986. 1986 was before the era of 24-hour news, but I vividly remember mid-afternoon programmes being interrupted to bring this sad news, and to show the horrific footage of Challenger exploding a few minutes into launch on that cold Floridian January day.

The explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle on launch in January 1986 shocked the World.

The explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle on launch in January 1986 shocked the World.

This is a video of the explosion

In 1967 all 3 Apollo 1 astronauts were killed in a fire in the command module during final testing for launch, but Challenger was the first time NASA had suffered the loss of astronauts during a mission. In the subsequent Presidential enquiry (headed by Bill Rogers, a former US Secretary of State during Nixon‘s administration) many NASA management mistakes were uncovered, and the cause of the accident was traced to O-rings which failed to prevent pressurised hot gas from escaping, which was the cause of the explosion. In a dramatic demonstration of the O-rings’ inability to cope with cold temperatures, the celebrated Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman illustrated on TV how this failure would occur. Here is a video where Feynman summarises his experiences of working on this investigation.

Sadly, the Challenger disaster was not the last in the Space Shuttle program. On the 1st of February, as it was re-entering the atmosphere at the end of a successful mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia burnt up in the atmosphere, again leading to the loss of all 7 astronauts on board. People often forget how dangerous an activity going into space is.

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I have just spent the last week showing my Physics students the wonderful BBC Horizon interview with Richard Feynman “The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out”. I vividly remember seeing this interview myself when I was 17. I already knew I wanted to go into physics, but this interview confirmed what I already knew, that physics was the subject for me. Thankfully for all, the interview is available in its entirety on YouTube.

When I introduce the video, I also quote what Brian Clegg says about Feynman in his introduction to the chapter on Quantum Electrodynamics in his book Light Years.

Richard Feynman, the magician

Ask a person in the street to name the two greatest physicists of the twentieth century and they will almost inevitably come up with Einstein. The second name, though, might prove harder to pin down.

Ask a physicist to come up with the top two and there will be no hesitation – or at least, if there is any hesitation, it will be over which name to put in first place.

The name that ranks alongside Einstein will be that of Richard Feynman.

The title of my blog comes from the words Hans Bethe (who won the Nobel prize in Physics for his work on nucleosynthesis within stars) said about Feynman. The quote in full is

There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it. Feynman was a magician.

Enjoy this wonderful interview with a truly remarkable physicist. And, if you want to read more about the crazy adventures he got up to in his colourful life, then read his autobiography ‘Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman

Feynman’s autobiography “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman” is a hilarious read

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