Richard Feynman

Richard Philip Feynman was born in New York City on May 11th 1918 to a middle class family that lived on the Southern tip of Manhattan. He grew up in a household where both of his parents poured into him their best qualities. His mother, Lucille, instilled in Richard a powerful sense of humor, which would be essential in forming his magnetic personality and eccentric lecturing style. His father, Melville, decided before Richard was born that if he were a boy, he would grow up to be a scientist, something that Melville himself had always wanted to be. And so guided subtly by his father, and given the power to laugh by his mother, Richard was set on a course that would eventually lead him to become a legend.

At a young age it was apparent that he was scientifically inclined. In school, he was interested in all things scientific and loved math. At one point he even gave thought to becoming a mathematician. After high school, he went to MIT to study physics, and after four years of that he went to Princeton as a graduate student. During this time in his life, he became engaged to his high school sweetie, Arline Greenbaum. Halfway into his education at Princeton, Arline was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and was not given many years to live. So Richard married her and put his doctoral thesis on hold.

Shortly after their marriage, a friend of Richard, Robert Wilson, came to Richard and told him that the government of America was looking for the finest physicists to help construct the atomic bomb. Otherwise known as the Manhattan project. At first Richard said no, but eventually his patriotism won over and he agreed to join the project.

Upon agreeing to join the project, he moved to Los Alamos, where the research facility was located and Arline could move to a hospital in Albuquerque. In July 1945, Arline, the love of Richards life, finally succumbed to the dreaded tuberculosis she had been fighting all of this time. To escape the pain, he immersed himself in his work and the 1st atomic bomb ever was ready for detonation very quickly.

With his work at Los Alamos done, Richard took a teaching position at Cornell University where he became depressed and believed that his life's work was behind him. But as he was stewing in his own depression, more and more of the top universities were sending more and more lucrative professorships his way.

And this was when what his mother had taught him really came into play to get Richards life back on track. Richard realized that it did not matter what others expected of him, it mattered what he could do with the rest of his life and still enjoy himself. And so he began working to finish his PhD thesis on quantumelectrodynamics, or QED for short. QED had to do with how one quantum state transferring into another, with all possibilities considered likely, and the end result would be the summation of all of the possible paths. After this he began to study a process called weak decay, in which an independent neutron decayed into an electron, a proton, and an antineutrino, thus becoming part in the discovery of a fundamental new law by which the universe was governed.

In the 1960s after a short marriage to a woman named Mary Lou, Richard fell in love with a woman he met a professional conference in Great Britain. She would be his wife for the remainder of his life. Together, they had a son named Carl, and the adopted a daughter named Michelle. From 1950 on he taught at Caltech, in California, and about a decade after starting there he was considered by his colleagues to be the answer to the growing problem of the freshman physics department there. So he took the job away from his beloved research and never looked back. It would be this decision that would generate so much love for him and make him so famous.

Richard Phillip Feynman continued to make noteworthy contributions to the field of physics and also discovered what caused the explosion of the space shuttle Discovery. By this time, Richard had a massive tumor growing in his abdomen, crushing one of his kidneys. After surgery it was discovered irreparable damage had already been done. Although the massive tumor was removed successfully, on of his kidney had been crushed and destroyed by the tumor, weakening him to many hours of inactivity.

In late 1987, doctors found another tumor and operated on it. But in his weakened state, he could not recover totally and he was ion constant pain. In February 1988, a gastrointestinal rupture was found which was worsened his state, but not as much as the remaining kidney failing. Under extreme pain he made to forgo the more painful dialysis and faced his mortality on February 15, 1988, at the age of 69. His last words were:

"I'd hate to die twice… it's so boring."


  • 'Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!' ; Adventures of a Curious Character by Edward Hutchings (Editor). April 1997