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Feynman's discoveries?

  1. Feb 4, 2015 #1
    Hi

    Did Feynman's discoveries have a big impact on technology? If it did, in what way? I'm trying to learn about what he has accomplished but it’s not so easy with my limited knowledge of physics. I just know he won a Nobel Prize and was considered the greatest physicist of his time.I want to know why.

    There should be a book where they explain every great physicist achievements and discoveries to educate the public. It should be written with a simple and concrete language aimed for the layman. It's a shame that majority of people could tell you more about Kardashian than Feynman or other important scientists.

    [Mentor's note: Moved from the Quantum Physics forum]
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2015
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  3. Feb 4, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    The Nobel lectures are good points to start to learn something about the work that people have done, for the small number who have own the Nobel Prize:

    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1965/feynman-lecture.html

    Many journals will publish commemorative issues to celebrate the life and work of the more illustrious members of their field. Often these journals will have an autobiographical essay that is interesting to read as well as a brief essay that outlines the contributions of the honoree.

    I am not sure of what specific techology has been enabled by Feynman's work in QCD, but others on the Forum might know of a specific widget or gizmo that owes its existence to this work. I do know that many workers in nanoscience were inspired by his prophetic words in a talk that he gave in the 80s, prior to the boom in nano-everything -- I think if you Google "Feynman" and "lots of room at the bottom" you will find the speech.
     
  4. Feb 4, 2015 #3

    Thanks for the link but there is no way that I can understand that. Enormous amount of text and I don’t get any of it. Is it really impossible to explain stuff for the layman in a short, simple, concrete way? I guess it's not possible since I haven’t found it anywhere and the subject is so advanced, especially his field.

    I do hope someone can tell me if some of his discoveries helped create new technology at that time. To me it’s all abstract until I can see that something concrete has come out of his work, for an example helped create a new processor or something else.
     
  5. Feb 4, 2015 #4

    Quantum Defect

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    The PR problem with basic research is that it often takes a very long time for a basic science result to lead to any product. People often quote the example of relativity being used in GPS as one example -- close to 100 years for that development!

    I very much like the (probably fictional) quip of Michael Faraday when Queen Victoria asked him: "Mr. Faraday, what use is Electricity?" To which he is supposed to have replied: "Your Majesty, what use is a baby?" I.e. Sometimes it takes a while for the utility of something to become apparent.
     
  6. Feb 4, 2015 #5

    bhobba

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    He made fundamental discoveries in QED (they were primarily calculation leading to much more efficient ways of calculating things in the theory - other physicists such as Schwinger were equally involved with the basics of the theory and they all got Nobel prizes) and its practical applications have been discussed before:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/does-qed-have-any-real-world-applications.559356/

    He also invented the path integral approach to QM that is widely used in solid state physics that lead to the transistor which is a very important technological discovery - but it's not required to understand it - merely useful.

    Thanks
    Bill
     
  7. Feb 5, 2015 #6

    vanhees71

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    I think what made Feynman so great was not only his very intuitive way to do theoretical physics but also the broadness of topics he covered, reaching from the modern foundation of quantum field theory (renormalization of QED is the work he got his Nobel for), the phenomenology of elementary particle physics (on both the weak and strong interactions; he's the inventor of the parton model!) to condensed-matter physics (liquid helium) and a lot of other stuff. Last but not least, I think it's fair to say that he was the greatest physics teacher (in the best sense of the word) since Sommerfeld.

    Another outstanding achievement is his development of calculational tools like the path-integral (as mentioned by bhobba above) and (very importantly) Feynman diagrams, whose invention led not only to the possibility to perform complicated QFT calculations in perturbation theory but also to the development of modern renormalization theory, culminating in the formal theory (Bogoliubov, Parasiuk, Hepp, Zimmermann) and the proof of the renormalizability of non-abelian gauge theories, upon which the most successful theory ever is based, the standard model of elementary particle physics ('t Hooft, Veltman). All this is best formulated and practiced in terms of Feynman diagrams.

    Concerning the "applicability" of his research, one should keep in mind that the development of technological applications takes some time. The endeavor of fundamental research also doesn't only lead to direct applications of its findings but in doing research on the forefront of knowledge triggers technological developments itself. An experimental colleague of mine, e.g., who is involved in research on heavy ions and who's among other things developing ideas for detectors to measure heavy-flavor mesons got a research grant about the application of the detector technology he uses in medicine.

    Of course, very fundamental questions of the past, which were solved in basic research led finally to all the technological convenience we have today. A little mathematical glitch in the then known theory of electromagnetism lead Maxwell to the introduction of an innocently looking term (the socalled "displacement current") into the equations of motion of the electromagnetic field (which was an idea by the experimentalist Faraday around the same time). This little term literally lead to a revolution in both pure science, because it predicted electromagnetic waves and lead to the technological development to create them and finally to wireless communication, radio, etc.

    But this was not the end of the story but the beginning of what's now called "modern physics". The electromagnetic theory enabled physicists and engineers to develop a lot of technology that finally lead to the discovery of the inner structure of matter (beginning with the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson, atomic nuclei, the strucure of atoms, radioactivity, X rays,...). This opened a can of worms in terms of the failure of what's now called "classical physics". Around 1900 many physicists thought the story is over: Classical physics, including mechanics, electromagnetics, and thermodynamics are the "theory of everything". There were "little clouds", particularly in thermodynamics, where the classical models didn't work, but one believed that this is solved easily. Now we know that was a completely wrong expectation, and quantum theory was needed to resolve these problems. Similarly the incompatibility of Maxwell's electrodynamics with the Galilean space-time structure and the lack of any indications for the implied existence of a preferred frame of reference lead to the discovery of special and finally general relativity.

    Quantum theory lead to an immense progress also in technological applications. The entire semiconductor industry, including transistors and ICs, upon which our modern computer technology is based (leading to the miracle that I can write this little posting and spread it all over the world with nearly the speed of light). Another pillar of computer technology is of course quite formal mathematics (Boolean algebra, algorithms, and all that).

    The idea of many politicians and economists that today's basic research is only justified when it brings some applications making money in some years is flawed and dangerous. Giving up fundamental reserach on such grounds would lead to a freezing of the technological standard at best. It could be even worse: If you don't foster fundamental research, one day you'll lack all the "nerds" needed to even keep the technological standard as it is now, let alone to discover new things leading to new inventions, etc.!
     
  8. Feb 5, 2015 #7

    ZapperZ

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    Why can't you pick up and read a biography of Feynman?

    Zz.
     
  9. Feb 5, 2015 #8

    epenguin

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    Offhand I remember one biog. called 'Genius' and another called 'Quantum Man'.
     
  10. Feb 5, 2015 #9

    So basically what you are saying is that I shouldn’t ask questions because I can find the answers in books...Tell me what the point of this forum is then?
    If I've read something I don’t understand and if I shouldn’t turn to a forum, what should I do Mr. Science Advisor?

    I think I pointed out clearly that I've read about Feynman but I didn’t understand what he has accomplished or in what way his discoveries where useful to us. I’m wiser now since I've received some great answers and I'm thankful for that.
     
  11. Feb 5, 2015 #10

    ZapperZ

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    What exactly did you read that you didn't understand? You never mentioned about that. It is very vague on the kind and level of efforts that you have put in. Are you saying that you have read these biographies and don't have the answers that you are looking for?

    This forum works best when there is a specific and narrow issues to tackle, rather than asking for very general and vague question.

    Zz.
     
  12. Feb 5, 2015 #11

    Ok then I'll try to be more precise next time.

    Sorry for off topic but I have a question I hope you can answer. If I have a clip about something claiming to be scientific could I make a thread in this part of the forum and ask if there's any truth to it? I'm watching something at the moment: and there’s a man saying over and over again "Everything is sound" (5:00 and forward) It bothers me in some way, I don’t know if he’s right or wrong but I sense bullshit. That aside I find those shapes remarkable and beautiful. Wonder if there’s any science behind them, like if you could predict / calculate what pattern would appear at different frequencies.
     
  13. Feb 5, 2015 #12
    Thanks for taking your time making that great post! So much information, I'll have to read it a couple of times to let it sink in :)

    What you said in the end is something I havent thought of at all, but it's so true..
     
  14. Feb 5, 2015 #13

    phinds

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    Do you really need anything more than that to sense horse manure?
     
  15. Feb 5, 2015 #14

    ZapperZ

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    Please read the forum rules first and pay attention to the type of discussion and sources that are allowed here. Not everything and anything that you can find are admissible.

    Zz.
     
  16. Feb 5, 2015 #15
    Will do.
     
  17. Feb 5, 2015 #16
    Cyrano: I am a sucker when it comes to Wikipedia so my suggestion would be to look him up there.
     
  18. Feb 8, 2015 #17
    Most technologies you are familiar with result from the work of hundreds of people, some of them closer to the spot light. Although baseball runs on gravity, it would be somewhat of a stretch to credit Newton for its existence. Newton merely explained very well the ball's trajectory.
     
  19. Feb 10, 2015 #18
    This is a pretty interesting article. http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2009/January/FeynmansFancy.asp

    .
     
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