Saturday, August 1, 2009

Feynman - He Makes Physics Fun

The seven famous 1964 "Feynman Lectures" at Cornell University are now available in a wonderful new form thanks to Bill Gates and Microsoft's Project Tuva.

Click here (while using Internet Explorer) and a new video player called Silverlight -a Microsoft application similar to Adobe Flash- will automatically install. There are several steps but all you have to do is click OK or Continue when prompted.

Silverlight shows the video in a small box along with the text of the talk in caption form, as shown in the image. The screen includes other boxes where explanitory material and links to relevant information appear. The user may also add personal notes that are keyed to specific parts of the lecture. You can also click to make the image nearly full-screen.

Feynman is great! He conveys somewhat difficult physics and mathematics information in a clear way, with excellent humor. "Project Tuva" refers to an out-of-the-way Asian part of the old Soviet Union that Feynman tried to visit just before he passed away. I have watched three of the lectures so far and plan to watch the others this week. Please watch them and comment!

Each lecture begins with a short video of Cornell University circa 1964. You can see and hear the bell tower chiming their Alma Mater "Far Above Cayuga's Waters" - Cornell sits above Cayuga Lake, less than an hour from were lived in upstate NY. Our daughter Lisa went to Cornell Ag School in Ithaca and we visited often. It was and is a wonderful school and she went on to get her PhD at Cornell's NY City campus. Her unauthorized version of the Alma Mater went like this: "Far above Cayuga's waters / there's an awful smell. / Is it just Cayuga's waters / or is it Cornell?"

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

Is it genetics or education that produced Feynman. Probably both. His father taught him to question the most elementary things that he observed. But. his father's questioning mind was perhaps passed on genetically. -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Joel, in a private email, passed on a link to a video: Feynman, the Pleasure of Finding Things Out. The famous scientist speaks informally, a couple decades after the Feynman lectures, about his relationships with his father and son and daughter, and how he does science. I strongly recommend everyone follow the above link and spend the time to watch one of the most facinating and intelligent and modest people who lived in our times.

Joel asks (based, I think, on the "Pleasure of Finding Things Out" video) "Is it genetics or education that produced Feynman?" and Joel's answer is both. I agree that his father passed on the tendency to question the most fundamental things by the way he interacted with Feynman as a child, and he (and Feynman's mother of course) also passed on the genetics for a brain that was capable of intense and deep thinking, and Feynman took advantage of the wonderful NY City school system and MIT, as well as the Manhattan Project that developed the Atom Bomb.

As I watched the 1964 Feynman Lectures and also the 1981 video of the modest Nobel laureate in a more relaxed setting, I feel a great empathy, brotherhood, and emotional connection to him, in addition to an intellectual appreciation. My relationship with my dad, and our daughters and grand-daughters, was very similar to the one he describes with his dad and his son and daughter. My father, a product of the depression, was only able to go to college at night, after work, and only for a couple of years. Yet, he had a tremendous respect for education -and a practical feeling for how things worked- that he passed on to me. I have tried to do the same with our children.

Ira Glickstein