Richard Feynman: It's A Small World

by Enrico Mejia

Feynman's Childhood

Richard P. Feynman (May 11,1918 - February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist who contributed to the world of physics and was best known for his work in quantum mechanics and also being an assistant in the development of the atom bomb. As a child Richard Feynman had a laboratory where he explored the field of electricity. He wired circuits with light bulbs, he invented a burglar alarm, and he took radios apart to repair damaged circuits. He had little liking for art in which he says in his book Surely You are Joking Mr.Feynman: "I always worried about being a sissy; I didn't want to be too delicate. To me, no real man ever paid any attention to poetry and such things"(31). He was also a math geek and even learned advanced mathematics before even learning it in school which won him high school math competitions.

The Start of the Fire

Feynman becoming a legendary physicist came from the wick of his destiny and his father igniting it. Before he was born, his father wanted him to become a scientist thus explaining the aforementioned laboratory he had as a child. Although he was not into physics during his childhood his extraordinary knowledge and skill in math led him to study physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gleick says,"...where his undergraduate thesis (1939) proposed an original and enduring approach to calculating forces in molecules." It is surprising to see how subjects can overlap and correlate with each other just as how physics applies mathematics. Feynman went deeper into physics, surpassing common knowledge and eventually making him the best theoretical physicist during his era.

Hardship and Struggles

Even as a great scientist, Feynman also had struggles throughout his life before becoming what he came to be. As a person of Jewish heritage, before studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology his first choice for college, Columbia University refused to accept him due to the Jewish quota despite his high grades(147). But after settling at MIT, Feynman exponentially grew as a scientist, and began teaching. He taught at Cornell University where he felt burned out, but still managed to teach a class in a "fun" way. Most of his problems were personal and not so much about his career as a scientist, however the death of his wife, Arline must have distraught him. In Richard P Feynman's 2012 biography titled, " Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries)," Krauss writes,"Richard and Arline were soul mates. They were not clones of each other, but symbiotic opposites – each completed the other. Arline admired Richard’s obvious scientific brilliance, and Richard clearly adored the fact that she loved and understood things he could barely appreciate at the time. But what they shared, most of all, was a love of life and a spirit of adventure" (44).

Feynman's Great Contributions: The Atom Bomb, QFT and the Birth of Nanotechnology

During the second world war, Feynman was recruited to be a staff member to work on the atomic bomb at Princeton University and at Los Alamos. In the Manhattan project, he was the youngest group leader of the theoretical division. Alongside Hans Bethe the head of that division, using their mathematical abilities they came up with a formula that predicted the amount of energy a nuclear explosion will give off. As shown in history, the atomic bomb proved to be a weapon of mass destruction. Gleick says, "..he later felt anxiety about the force he and his colleagues had helped unleash on the world." Who knew that someone could co-orchestrate such weapon with such power using a formula?

Feynman was famously known for creating the Quantum field theory. According to Kuhlnmann,"Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is the mathematical and conceptual framework for contemporary elementary particle physics. In a rather informal sense QFT is the extension of quantum mechanics." To know how his Quantum Field Theory contributed greatly to the scientific world, a basic knowledge of quantum mechanics is first needed to be known. Quantum mechanics are laws that atoms, light waves, electrons follow. They differ from the laws of physics like gravity because these "small" things have their own set of rules. Basically, the Quantum Field Theory is a theory made by Feynman to explain the physics of tiny subatomic particles and how they react to force fields.

Lastly, Feynman is considered the father of nanotechnology, note the prefix. His ideas behind the manipulation of atoms and particles paved the way for it's uprising use in from medicine, electronics, and nanotechnology. An example of it's application in medicine (which is still developing) would be the ability for doctors to create nano particles to deliver substances and target a specific cell (like a cancer cell). He produced the concepts of nano science and nanotechnology at an American Physical Society meeting titled, "There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom." In his concepts, he described a process where scientists could control and manipulate the atoms and molecules, individually. To be able to come up with ideas and concepts to control and manipulate an atom individually was an almost unthinkable task. This was the case until in 1981 when the development of the scanning tunneling microscope began symbolizing man's first step to the "little" world.

Richard Feynman's Educational Comedy

Richard Feynman - Wasn't frighten by not knowing


  • Albert Einstein Award (1945, Princeton)
  • Einstein Award(Albert Einstein Award College of Medicine)
  • Lawrence Award (1962)
  • Nobel Prize in Physics (1965)

Nanotechnology: How Feyman is The Most Influential Scientist in History

Feyman was the builder of the bridge between math and science. Before he came to the scene, physics had it's own math and math it's own. However, it was the application of Feyman as a math prodigy to the world of science that made him great with his contributions to the modern world. To him, it wasn't about finding the answer anymore, instead it came to finding the reason. Feyman didn't settle on what was there but what was in it, this thinking led to his interest in physics and therefore the Quantum Field Theory. This theory about the movement of tiny particles led to the development of nanotechnology giving us the key to unlocking the "inner" world.

He continued working on what was left of Quantum physics, and made it make sense with his theory. His ideas and works has led us to focusing not only on the big picture, but tiny details which is now called nanotechnology. This was probably his greatest contribution due to the fact that without his intensive study on subatomic particles, Although still in development, nanotechnology could be applied to many things for a better Earth and a better society. What many people can learn from him is the fact that there is more than what you can see, and when you do see it, that's when you have seen everything.

More information about the application of nanotechnology can be found at:

Works Cited