Richard Feynman – Take The World From Another Point of View

Here’s another classic Feynman interview. From the early 70s when Feynman was in his mid-50s, Take The World From Another Point of View was filmed some years before his celebrated Horizon interview that I posted here a few weeks ago:

Ed Witten on String Theory

Ed Witten

Here’s what TIME magazine said about Ed Witten back in 2004 when he was chosen as one of its 100 most influential people:

Albert Einstein labored unsuccessfully for decades to create a theory that would merge relativity and quantum physics into one tidy mathematical package. But where Einstein failed, physicists may finally be on the verge of success, largely thanks to Edward Witten, generally considered the greatest theoretical physicist in the world. “Ed is unique,” says John Schwarz, a theorist at Caltech, “the kind of person who comes along once a century.”

The tall, thin, soft-spoken Witten, 52, didn’t even set out to be a scientist. He majored in history at Brandeis and originally planned to be a journalist but ended up getting a Ph.D. in physics instead. By the mid-1980s, some of his colleagues had decided that the answer to Einstein’s failed dream was to treat the building blocks of matter–quarks, photons, electrons and such–as minuscule, vibrating strings of energy rather than as particles. But superstring theory was considered no more than an esoteric and eccentric subspecialty until Witten (by this time a full professor at Princeton) turned his attention to it. Before long he was the dominant player in the field, and string theory was the hottest area of physics. Many of the big developments in string physics–the kind of ideas that break through theoretical logjams and bring everyone to a deeper level of understanding–can be traced to Witten. “Most other people have made one or two such contributions,” says Juan Maldacena, who, like Witten, is at Einstein’s old stomping ground, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. “Ed has made 10 or 15.”

What sort of contributions? Don’t ask, unless twistor-space methods and Yang-Mills theories are your cup of tea. But if Witten’s string theory is right, it means that the quest Einstein began to find the ultimate laws of the universe may nearly be over. The proof, however, may still be many years off. Witten once called string theory “a bit of 21st century physics that somehow dropped into the 20th century.” If so, Witten clearly has the 21st century mind to handle it.

Enough said. Here’s Witten on string theory:

Steven Weinberg on the LHC, the Higgs boson, dark matter and supersymmetry

Physicists hope that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, will help answer some of the most intriguing and pressing questions in physics. Steven Weinberg shared the 1979 the Nobel Prize for physics with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam ‘for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alla the prediction of the weak neutral current’.

L to R: Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg receiving the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics

In this lecture Weinberg discusses the standard model of particle physics – to which he made major contributions – the Higgs boson, the nature of dark matter and the theory of supersymmetry.

Brian Greene: The Universe on a String

Brian Greene

A wonderfully engaging TED talk on superstring theory by the physicist Brian Greene. If you haven’t already, its a must see. Greene’s a class act.

Feynman in Action: The 1964 Messenger Lectures


Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman once said: ‘You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.’

‘No one was more adept at making science fun and interesting than Richard Feynman,’ Bill Gates said a few years ago after he bought the film rights to the 1964 Messenger Lectures by the celebrated American physicist. The BBC filmed the series of seven lectures, delivered at Cornell University under the collective title of The Character of Physical Law, a year before Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his part in the development of quantum electrodynamics.

One of the most imaginative and charismatic scientists of the 20th century, Feynman argues that the importance of a physical law is not ‘how clever we are to have found it out, but . . . how clever nature is to pay attention to it’ and looks at the elegance and simplicity of all scientific laws.

After Gates bought the film rights, he made the lectures were made freely available. ‘Feynman worked hard during his life to popularize science, so I’m sure he’d be thrilled that now anyone, anywhere in the world, can just click a button and experience his lectures,’ Gates said at the time.

Here’s a real treat, before the days of exotic locations or cgi in science programmes, just Feynman in action:

Part 1: The Law of Gravitation

Part 2: The Relation of Mathematics and Physics

Part 3: The Great Conservation Principles

Part 4: Symmetry in Physical Law

Part 5: The Distinction of Past and Future

Part 6: Probability and Uncertainty

Part 7: Seeking New Laws

Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN

Emma Sanders chaired my talk in April at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. A trained astronomer and science communicator, Emma is a press officer at CERN and she gave me a copy of her brilliant pop book Voyage to the Heart of Matter: The ATLAS Experiment at CERN. My 8 and 12 year-olds loved it, but it’s a great book whatever your age.