As you may have guessed from some of my posts a couple of months ago, physicist Dr. Richard Feynman is one of my favorite scientists. While it is true that I only came to know about him after graduating from college, his work in promoting proper scientific and engineering procedures, as shown by his cargo cult speech and his demonstration of the O-ring failure in the Challenger disaster, has inspired me to… well… put back the “science” back in “computer science” and “engineering” back in “software engineering”.
Beyond his contributions to physics and his storied biography, Dr. Feynman is also known for his teaching ability. During his years as a professor, he was able to explain clearly the complex concepts of physics to college students—an impressive feat during his time.
With the wonders of modern technology (and the size of Bill Gate’s wallet), the public can now watch some of Dr. Feynman’s lectures. According to Microsoft’s press release:
REDMOND, Wash. — July 14, 2009 — Microsoft Research, in collaboration with Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, today launched a Web site that makes an acclaimed lecture series by the iconic physicist Richard Feynman freely available to the general public for the first time. The lectures, which Feynman originally delivered at Cornell University in 1964, have been hugely influential for many people, including Gates. Gates privately purchased the rights to the seven lectures in the series, called “The Character of Physical Law,” to make them widely available to the public for free with the hope that they will help get kids excited about physics and science.
The historic lectures and related content can be seen at http://research.microsoft.com/tuva. The name “Tuva” was chosen because of Feynman’s lifelong fascination with the small Russian republic of Tuva, located in the heart of Asia.
Feynman was one of the most popular scientists of the 20th century, equally regarded for his scientific insights as well as his ability to convey his enthusiasm for science through his lectures and writings. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 and was also known for his quirky sense of humor and eccentric and wide-ranging interests.
I’ve only seen the first two videos and I can say that they are fun to watch. Dr. Feynman may have his awkward moments (he made a discussion flow mistake in the first video) but overall we can see how well he engages his audience as discusses the lesson. One thing to note in the video is how lectures were presented back then, namely, how Dr. Feynman relies on slides only as visual aids and not as some summary tool. (For the record, I hate it when people use PowerPoint slides with more than one line of text for teaching.)
You might be worried about the “freshness” of his lectures, especially considering that these lectures were made in 1964. Fortunately, unlike some other fields of science, the understanding of the fundamental laws of physics haven’t changed much in the past 45 years. A college student will find these lectures as informative as they were back then.