I’m never really sure how many people have heard of Richard Feynman. Pretty much anyone involved in science has heard of him, but he doesn’t seem very famous outside those circles anymore. I did want to talk about him on the blog eventually. The inspiration for me to write this post, though, came from a letter Dr. Feynman wrote to his first wife, who died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. He wrote her the letter about a year and a half after she died. You can find the entirety of the letter at Letters of Note – a blog that I highly recommend. I wanted to share this passage with you, beautifully written by a grieving man:
And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.
I love my wife. My wife is dead.
Shaun Usher, creator of Letters of Note, noted that Feynman wrote the letter on October 17, 1946, and it was not opened until after Feynman’s death in 1988.
Feynman won the Nobel Prize for his work in a field called quantum electrodynamics, which describes how light and ordinary matter interact when they hit each other. He even drove a van with the diagrams he created to help visualize the theory painted on its side:
Feynman had other scientific pursuits, including superfluidity (a fluid flowing without viscosity) and weak decay (a type of radioactive decay). Feynman was also heavily involved in the Rogers Commission that investigated the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, concluding that an O-ring failed when temperatures became too cold, leading to the explosion:
One of my favorite Richard Feynman moments is from a BBC interview where he compares an artist’s appreciation of a flower to that of a scientist’s, showing just how beautiful science can be:
Richard Feynman did remarry eventually (twice, actually) and he contributed greatly to the advancement of his field. But he also had a wonderfully expressive heart.