The problem is particularly noticeable in classrooms, where rote memorization trumps ingenuity and understanding. However, when Richard Feynman taught science, this was never a problem.

His eccentricity and flair for showmanship made science accessible and exciting, leaving his listeners wide-eyed and eager to learn more.

But perhaps this is to be expected. He was, after all, one of the greatest and most influential theoretical physicists in history. But, of course, he wasn't infallible.

## Richard Feynman: Early beginnings

Feynman was born in 1918 in New York City to a Jewish family — though he was a professed atheist from his early teenage years on. Unfortunately, Feynman’s Jewish heritage often made life difficult. At the time, antisemitism was widespread in the United States, and Feynman was rejected when he applied to Columbia University. Today, many argue that this rejection was due to the university's quota on Jewish admissions.

He was, however, accepted to MIT. Feynman subsequently completed his doctoral work at Princeton University.

Feynman married his high school sweetheart, Anne Greenbaum, in 1942. The previous year, Greenbaum had been diagnosed with lymphatic tuberculosis. It was a death sentence, with doctors stating that she only had two years to live. But she was the love of Feynman's life, and so they married. Directly after the ceremony, Feynman took her Greenbaum to the hospital, where he would visit her every weekend.

Greenbaum died with Feynman by her side in 1945. She was twenty-five.

## The science years

Feynman began his career in science as a junior physicist in the Manhattan Project, working toward producing the world’s first atomic bomb. Specifically, Feynman worked on a theory of how to separate Uranium 235 from Uranium 238.

Later in the project, he became the leader of the Theoretical Division and developed a formula to calculate the yield of a fission bomb with Hans Bethe.

After the war ended, he moved on to teaching as a professor of theoretical physics at Cornell University and the California Institute of Technology, where he conducted his most groundbreaking work.

Feynman's primary contributions were to quantum mechanics. He introduced diagrams (now called “Feynman diagrams”) that are graphic analogs of the mathematical expressions needed to describe how particles interact.

While his partners, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, approached quantum electrodynamics mathematically, Feynman drew pictures of every possible interaction between photons and electrons. His iconic doodles helped transform the very foundation of physics, allowing scientists to calculate the probability of each scenario and add them up to get the correct answer.

David Kaiser eloquently articulates the significance of Feynman’s diagrams: "With the diagrams’ aid, entire new calculational vistas opened for physicists. Theorists learned to calculate things many had barely dreamed possible before....It might be said that physics can progress no faster than physicists’ ability to calculate. Thus, in the same way that computer-enabled computation might today be said to be enabling a genomic revolution, Feynman diagrams helped to transform the way physicists saw the world, and their place in it."

In 1965, Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Schwinger and Tomonaga for this work and its contributions to quantum electrodynamics. But, of course, Feynman was much more than just a theoretical physicist.

## Feynman’s lectures

During his tenure at Caltech in the early 1960s, Feynman delivered a series of lectures that revolutionized the teaching of introductory physics. These lectures subsequently spawned a book that explained the most basic principles of astonishingly complex and formidable theories, like general relativity and quantum mechanics, in a way that was accessible, accurate, and comprehensive.

In 2013, Caltech and the Feynman Lectures website collaborated to post these lectures online, and they’re completely free.

In the first two years alone, the site was accessed more than 8 million times by roughly 1.7 million people — a testament to his teaching abilities and demonstrating just how timeless his lectures are.

That’s not to say that Feynman did it alone. Fellow physicists Matthew Sands and Robert Leighton took turns editing and compiling the individual lectures, which took between 10 to 20 hours each.

Although, Feynman did face some controversy — and it must be noted that such critical reflections are very much valuable and needed — by nurturing a sense of wonder for nature and fostering a desire to understand the mechanisms that govern the physical world in so many, Feynman forever transformed our world and our understanding of it.