A. B. Mutiara

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Memories of Feynman

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In this memoir, written in 1983, a contemporary and close friend of Richard Feynman’s recalls the blossoming of Feynman’s genius with vignettes from college, Los Alamos, and afterward.

Theodore A. Welton

Almost 50 years ago, in September 1935, unnoticed among the as-yet-undifferentiated horde of entering freshmen at MIT were two ambitious, rather diffident physicists-to-be. One was Dick Feynman and the other was the author of these recollections. Initially unknown to one another, we remained so for the freshman year, since MIT grouped its students into classes by major. I was Course VIII (physics) from the beginning, while Feynman briefly vacillated, finding electrical engineering too practical after one semester and mathematics too abstract after another semester. My first hint of what was to come was on the occasion of the annual spring open house in 1936, when I found at one of the mathematics exhibits a fresh-faced kid (almost precisely my age, actually) who seemed to have a thorough comprehension of the concept of the Fourier transform and of the operation of the mechanical harmonic analyzer. Up to this point, I had nourished the fond, if secret, belief that I was the only freshman competent to handle such esoteric matters. Thus began my true education!

By the end of the summer of 1936, I had passed exams in the required mathematics courses for sophomore and junior physics majors and thus had available some interesting gaps in my schedule, which I promptly filled by signing up for the course Introduction to Theoretical Physics, taught from the book of the same name by John Slater and Nathaniel Frank. Before the first lecture, I had gone to the physics library and taken out Tullio Levi-Civita’s book The Absolute Differential Calculus, which I hoped would reveal some further secrets of differential geometry not covered in Arthur Eddington’s book The Mathematical Theory of Relativity, which I had read the previous year. Then on to class, where I discovered the mathematics whiz of the previous spring, apparently also prepared to do battle with theoretical physics. As I sat next to him, he glanced over at my books and immediately announced (in a somewhat raucous Far Rockaway version of standard English) that he had been trying to get hold of Levi-Civita and could he see it when I had finished. My interest piqued, I noticed that his stack contained Albert Wills’s Vector Analysis, with an Introduction to Tensor Analysis, so he must be the reason I had been unable to find it in the library. Since we were, I think, the only two sophomores in that class, it apparently simultaneously occurred to the two of us that cooperation in the struggle against a crew of aggressive-looking seniors and graduate students might be mutually beneficial. Our friendship dated from that almost instantaneous recognition, and recollections from that period have enriched (and sometimes complicated) my life ever since.

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Written by amutiara

Februari 16, 2007 pada 7:12 am

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