A science hero of mine is…

A science hero of mine is…

…Richard Feynman (Physicist, 1918-1988).

Despite working in a completely different field to myself, I distinctly remember as a young developing scientist being inspired by Feynman’s biography where his “first principles” approach to problem solving was described. I highly recommend reading his biography to any young budding scientist.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1965, sharing the honour with Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, and Julian Schwinger. He gave the following speech at the Nobel Banquet on the same night as Robert Woodward.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The work I have done has, already, been adequately rewarded and recognized.

Imagination reaches out repeatedly trying to achieve some higher level of understanding, until suddenly I find myself momentarily alone before one new corner of nature’s pattern of beauty and true majesty revealed. That was my reward.

Then, having fashioned tools to make access easier to the new level, I see these tools used by other men straining their imaginations against further mysteries beyond. There, are my votes of recognition.

Then comes the prize, and a deluge of messages. Reports; of fathers turning excitedly with newspapers in hand to wives; of daughters running up and down the apartment house ringing neighbor’s doorbells with news; victorious cries of “I told you so” by those having no technical knowledge – their successful prediction being based on faith alone; from friends, from relatives, from students, from former teachers, from scientific colleagues, from total strangers; formal commendations, silly jokes, parties, presents; a multitude of messages in a multitude of forms.

But, in each I saw the same two common elements. I saw in each, joy; and I saw affection (you see, whatever modesty I may have had has been completely swept away in recent days).

The prize was a signal to permit them to express, and me to learn about, their feelings. Each joy, though transient thrill, repeated in so many places amounts to a considerable sum of human happiness. And, each note of affection released thus one upon another has permitted me to realize a depth of love for my friends and acquaintances, which I had never felt so poignantly before.

For this, I thank Alfred Nobel and the many who worked so hard to carry out his wishes in this particular way.

And so, you Swedish people, with your honors, and your trumpets, and your king – forgive me. For I understand at last – such things provide entrance to the heart. Used by a wise and peaceful people they can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own. For that lesson, I thank you. Tack!

Richard P. Feynman’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1965. From Les Prix Nobel en 1965, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1966.

Professor Damien Harkin is a senior scientist at the Queensland Eye Institute. Read his Scientists of QEI feature here.

“Richard P. Feynman – Banquet Speech”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 19 Apr 2017. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1965/feynman-speech.html

Featured image: Richard Feynman at the blackboard, http://www.richard-feynman.net/gallery.htm.

The QEI Lab | Administrator