US Stamps

By Michael Baadke

Born May 11: Richard Feynman

May 11, 2015 04:00 AM

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman was born May 11, 1918, in the New York City borough of Queens. Along with a keen perception and an inquisitive mind, Feynman also possessed a lively sense of humor. The combination gave him the ability to forge new paths in physics, and to explain his understanding in a way that even nonscientists might grasp and enjoy.

A top student in high school, Feynman studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and at Princeton (where he received his doctorate in 1942). He was part of the team of scientists at Los Alamos in the 1940s developing an atomic bomb, and observed the first nuclear detonation.

He joined the California Institute of Technology in 1950 and began his work in the fields of quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics. The 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga "for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles."

In the 1970s Feynman developed a strong interest in the one-time independent nation of Tannu Tuva, whose elaborate and unusual postage stamps he had admired as a boy.

Feynman was part of the presidential commission that investigated the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and he provided a demonstration that helped explain the failure that caused the disaster.

Feynman died of kidney failure in 1988 after battling cancer for a number of years. His book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, was a national bestseller.

The 37¢ commemorative stamp honoring him (Scott 3909) was issued May 4, 2005, in a set that included three other stamps honoring Barbara McClintock, Josiah Willard Gibbs, and John von Neumann.