It’s a few weeks into the Eminent project now, and things are going pretty smoothly. I have a rough speech outline, and have successfully conducted my Eminent Interview. I’d like to talk about my research and interview for this document of learning.

As of this past weekend, I have a new source at my disposal: a biography for Richard Feynman. Some may ask what the big deal is, as I already have 5 or so autobiographies/lecture compilations by Feynman already. However, the biography has one thing all the other works don’t have: someone else’s perspective. While looking at works written by Feynman is all well and good, it’s nice to have a source that’s a little more critical of his actions. This development was well timed, as I conducted my interview the day after I got the book. The results of both the reading and the interview also shared many similarities.

For my Eminent interview, I interviewed a physics professor at SFU. I asked her questions in three main areas: “How did Richard Feynman affect science as we know it today?”, “What was Feynman’s approach to solving problems?”, and “What made Feynman great at teaching science to others?”. My take on the interview results is shown below.

Richard Feynman was one of the many great scientists working on the atomic bomb, which was a very impressive scientific achievement. Even more impressive was when he explained the extremely complex area of quantum electrodynamics with a simple diagram, now known as a Feynman Diagram. However, there was something else he brought to physics and science in general: joy. It wasn’t just the work he did that made him great, it was the way he did it. He reminded everyone that science could be fun.

Feynman’s approach to solving problems resembles something we’re being taught in English class: how to show, not tell. An example of this is when he discovered the cause behind the crash of the space shuttle Challenger. He brought one of the shuttle’s most important components, a rubber O-ring, to a meeting where the cause of the disaster was being discussed. He put it in his glass of ice water and noted that it wouldn’t spring back to normal shape after squeezing if it was cold. This was the solution, and he found it by doing a simple experiment with a glass of ice water during a meeting. Another example is Feynman diagrams: he explained a complicated subject in a simple visual. His straightforward, practical approach to problems was so easy to grasp that many non-scientists could understand them.

The three words my interviewee used to describe Feynman’s explanations are “simple”, “profound”, and “elegant”. They were simple and elegant, showing a lot of knowledge in a simple statement or diagram, but they took a very deep approach to thinking about the way the world works. Another secret to Feynman’s teaching success was his passion towards physics. His love and enthusiasm for the subject rubbed off on his audience, and his way of speaking made people actually care about the subject. His lectures were so influential, they are quoted by science teachers to this day.

My interview results fulfill some of the goals I set in the Intro post. I now have a rough idea of how he came up with his brilliant solutions. I also know why his lectures are so well known, as well as what he did to make them that way.

Well, I think that’s mostly it. I’m kind of nervous about my learning centre and speech, as the Night of the Notables is less than two weeks away now. However, I know that I can finish my work in time if I work at it. I just need to keep pressing on!

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