TWO MINUTES WITH John Gribbin
Why is Richard Feynman such an important figure?
He was a first-rate scientist and more importantly a first-rate teacher and communicator. He reached out to the world, explaining physics in an easily understood way and showed that scientists aren’t robots in lab coats but human beings who like a good time (and playing the bongo drums).
How did Feynman contribute to the Challenger disaster investigation?
Feynman was independent of NASA and known for his sharp brain and outspoken honesty. Following some hints from a colleague, Feynman found the immediate cause of the accident and drew attention to the mismanagement and bad practices that had caused it. This was not what the authorities wanted to hear, and they tried to keep him quiet, but he insisted on publishing his findings. NASA was never the same again, but in a good way.
How would you describe Richard Feynman, the person?
We never met Feynman, but we met many of his friends and colleagues, who revealed to us an image of a man who was sociable, fun to be with and honest. He got more pleasure out of things he was not expected to be good at (like painting or cracking codes) than his day job. On more than one occasion he solved a major physics problem, stuck the paperwork in a drawer and forgot about it until someone else solved the same puzzle and published it. In a sense, he was the last great amateur scientist.
JOHN GRIBBIN is author of such books as 13.8 and The Universe: A Biography