Little Bits of History

Itty Bitty

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2014
Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

December 29, 1959: Richard Feynman gives a speech at Caltech. The speech was entitled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. It was Feynman’s idea to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. It would take a set of precise tools to build and operate the next set of smaller precise tools and so on until the smallest tools were available. Scaling issues would arise and gravity would be less important as a weak force acting on such a small item. Instead, surface tension and van der Waals attraction would become more important at that size. The latter force is the attractive or repulsive forces between molecules other than those due to covalent bonds or the electrostatic interaction of ions.

Feynman was born in 1918 in New York City. He wrote his doctoral thesis, The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics, in 1942. He worked as a professor in physics and eventually came to the California Institute of Technology. He presented his speech there at the American Physical Society’s meeting. At the meeting, Feynman issued two challenges. As he ended his talk, he also offered two $1000 prizes to the first person or persons to solve each of the two problems. The first was to built a tiny motor which was done in November 1960. The second was to create letters so small that the entire Encyclopædia Britannica could be printed on a pin. It would take a reduction in size to 1/25,000 to achieve that goal. In 1985, a Stanford grad student wrote the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities at that size and collected the prize.

The speech was credited with being the inspiration behind the field of nanotechnology. Although newer research tends to limit his influence, nanotechnology is a thriving science. The term itself was first used by Norio Taniguchi in 1974. The science includes many applications of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular state. The National nanotechnology Initiative defines the science as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers. This definition realized the importance of quantum mechanical effects.

Feynman won the Nobel Prize in quantum electrodynamics which made accurate predictions possible. In order to work with this type of science, he developed Feynman diagrams, a bookkeeping method allowing help with conceptualization and calculating interactions between particles in spacetime along with their antimatter counterparts. Feynman helped to discover the cause of the Challenger disaster and found the problem to be the O-rings resiliency at low temps. He contracted two rare forms of cancer and died on February 15, 1988 at the age of 69.

I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring. (last words)

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel Prize. – all from Richard P. Feynman

Also on this day: The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Worst in America – In 1876, the Ashtabula Bridge collapsed.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.
Saintly Departure – In 1170, Thomas Becket was assassinated.


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