Lives of Scientists and Engineers
About whom? Reminiscence
Richard P. Feynman

(1918—1988; Nobel Laureate, 1965)

I enjoyed radios. I started with a crystal set that I bought at the store, and I used to listen to it at night in bed while I was going to sleep, through a pair of earphones. When my mother and father went out until late at night, they would come into my room and take the earphones off - and worry about what was going into my head while I was asleep.

I had a Ford coil - a spark coil generator from an automobile - and I had the spark terminals at the top of my switch board. I would put a Raytheon RH tube, which had argon gas in it, across the terminals, and the spark would make a purple glow inside the vacuum tube — it was just great!

[Richard Feynan when he was about twelve years old]

Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Are Joking, Mr Feynman!
Unwin Paperbacks, Unwin Hyman Ltd., London, 1985; p.16

Richard P. Feynman

(1918—1988; Nobel Laureate, 1965)

The next radio I tried to fix didn’t work at all. That was easy: it wasn’t plugged in right.

I bought myself a milliammeter in New York and converted it into a voltmeter that had different scales on it by using the right lengths (which I calculated) of very fine copper wire. It wasn’t very accurate, but it was good enough to tell me whether things were in the right ballpark at different connections in those radios sets.

[Richard Feynan repairs radios during depression years]

Richard Feynman, Surely You’re Are Joking, Mr Feynman!
Unwin Paperbacks, Unwin Hyman Ltd., London, 1985; p.19

Sir Nevill Mott

(1906—1996; Nobel Laureate, 1977)

When I commenced my own studies on vitreous semiconductors, in the mid 1960's, Mott at the Cavendish Laboratory and his counterpart Kolomiets in Leningrad towered over the field. Sir Nevill's contributions to the theory of disordered semiconductors were, of course, those for which he gained his Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1977. Typically, he questioned his eligibility for the award, suggesting that he had not achieved a major breakthrough such as the "invention" of quantum mechanics or the development of a new theory of subatomic particles. Few would agree, feeling that his overall contribution to solid state physics has rarely, if ever, been surpassed.

At a personal level, I always found Sir Nevill to possess the typical helpful and pleasant personality that people with his outstanding intellect so often exhibit. He was, of course, not always totally correct in the unifying theories of the disordered solid state which he advanced. Rather, his outstanding talent was often to perceive the answer to some problem which defied formal analysis, and thus to skip several intermediate stages in arriving at a prediction which proved to be correct on the great majority of occasions.

as told by
Professor Joe Marshall
University of Wales at Swansea
September 1996

Sheldon Glashow

(born 1932; Nobel Laureate, 1979)

I began with powdered selenium metal, an exceedingly toxic and noxious substance that smells exactly like horseradish, and synthesized many of its compounds with chlorine and bromine. My most ambitious experiment involved an intricate synthesis of the unstable ring compound selenium nitride. Allowed to dry, this amusing chemical would explode, producing a flash of light, a bang, a puff of smoke and a lingering odor of horseradish. It made wonderful party favor.

Many of the compounds I produced were sealed in glass tubes. I became a collector of interestingly colored, smelly poisons.

[Sheldon Glashow reminesces about his home chemistry hobby during his teenage years while he was still at Bronx High School in New York, circa mid-1940s. By the way he won the Nobel prize for his work on weak interactions]

Sheldon L. Glashow
Warner Books, New York, 1988
: p.21

William Shockley

(1910—1989; Nobel Laureate, 1956)

..one of us (Hogan) recalls visiting Shockley's office in 1950 seeking information about the possibility that Bell Labs could build a microwave gyrator using newly available ferrites. Although transistor research was then at its peak at Bell Labs, Shockley found time and plenty of curiosity to devote to the problem. He responded with characteristic enthusiasm – "I don't know, but let's see if we can work it out from basic fundamentals" - and arrived at the the basic equation describing the performance of a ferrite-based gyrator in less than 30 minutes."

as told by
M. Sparks, Lester Hogan and J. Linville

in Physics Today
, June 1991, p. 132

Niels Bohr

(1885—1962; Nobel Laureate, 1922)

In Manchester Bohr was a regular attendant to half-past-four informal conferences and Friday afternoon colloquia, that Rutherford conducted; they took place over tea, buttered bread and cake. It required an effort of imagination to conceive of matter as being made mostly of empty space; gradually a planetary disposition of electrons evolved. Bohr added stimulating thoughts; perhaps he suggested, the solid, gaseous, or liquid state of elements is explained by a different arrangement of their electrons. As he ventured into this no-man's land of ideas, while Rutherford sucked quietly at his pipe, Bohr's tea usually turned cold.

[Niels Bohr's time in Manchester with Rutherford, circa 1911]

Juan A. del Regato, Radiological Physicists, AIP, New York, 1985, p.42

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