The Curious Case of Richard Phillips Feynman



“There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it. Feynman was a magician”

Hans Bethe, theoretical physicist and noble laureate

Richard Phillips Feynman was indeed a magician. Not your everyday physicist Feynman’s life was much more than mind boggling integrals and equations. A legendary teacher, showman and ingenious physicist, he was a unique mixture of high intelligence, unquenchable curiosity and eternal skepticism. The world knows him for his contributions in Quantum Electrodynamics, Nanotechnology, Manhattan Project, Challenger Shuttle disaster findings and several highly acclaimed books which will serve as an inspiration for generations to come.

Richard Feynman2
Feynman’s wizardry knew no limits

However there was a whole other side of his personality that still remains relatively unknown. During his days at Los Alamos while working on top secret Manhattan Project Feynman was notoriously known for his safe-cracking habit which to him was just a source of amusement. As Feynman would later write in his essay, “Safecracker Meets Safecracker”

To demonstrate that the locks meant nothing, whenever I wanted somebody’s report and they weren’t around, I’d just go in their office, open the filing cabinet, and take it out. When I was finished I would give it back to the guy: “Thanks for your report.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“Out of your filing cabinet.”

“But I locked it!”

“I know you locked it. The locks are no good.”

Source: Feynman’s Safecraking Adventures

A Showman

He was a showman and a real good one! He would twist & turn, make funny connotations, mesmerize you with his simple, fluidic understanding of the topic during his lectures. Seemingly tough problems had dual behavior when Feynman was teaching and when he was not. I was particularly impressed with the way he cunningly brought out the differences between Mathematicians and Physicists without getting rubbed from either of the sides. Only a clever fellow like Feynman could get away with such blasphemy in scientific world.
Prof. Feynman at Caltech


A Bongo Player

Stuck in a problem: Keep Calm and Play Bongo!

Anti-Authoritarian and Non-Conformist 

It was something that he learned at a very early stage of life from his father. The sort of skeptic that Feynman was its not hard to imagine the differences between him and authorities. While saying yes to the Rogers Committee for Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster he was apprehensive about the interference from government and NASA thus was not willing to sign up for the job. Later he bashed the agency for being ignorant and held it responsible for the dysfunctional “O-Rings” that ultimately led to the disaster.

Source: Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle

Demonstrating the effect of low temperatures on elasticity of O-Rings

Car painted with Feynman Diagrams

Want to show your best work to other people? Just put it on your car and there you go!

Richard Feynman’s van. (Photo by Ed Pastor)
Feynman Van with Feynman Diagrams made an appearance on S09E03 “The Bachelor Party Corrosion” of Big Bang Theory. Source Wikia

There has to be a “Feynman Scale” for showing off. Just Kidding!

Picking up girls at bar

Now this one is my personal favorite. Be it colleges, bars, parties or strip clubs, Feynman had his fair share of interaction with women of all kinds and being a scientist he tried to formulate an algorithm to get a woman ‘interested’ in him. I don’t know if it worked all the time or if it worked at all but hey! how can you ignore one of the most famous physicist of all time.

Do not try this anywhere:

They [Feynman’s friends] gave him [Feynman] three rules for success with women. These rules were based on the premise that women in know that men want to appear a gentleman and not a tightwad. They exploit this to get what they want. When they are focused on getting what they want you never get what you want.

So Rule One is: Disrespect women. Never be a gentleman.

Rule Two: never pay for anything.

Rule Three: Never pay for anything unless they have agreed to go to bed with you and you know they aren’t lying.


An Artist

A physicist and an artist, slightly unusual combination to have but worked just perfectly for Feynman. Follow this infographic for his artistic adventures.


No matter what the situation was, Feynman was always up to solving problems, working out calculus in his brain, wondering about things both usual and unusual (like in how many parts does a spaghetti break when its bend from two ends) and learning new stuff.

This is my favorite quote from Feynman’s encyclopedia:

A poster in my room

To this unorthodox personality and a lover of physics here is my tribute.

2: Newton’s second law, 3: Maxwell’s Equations, Can you identify the other two? Image credit Imgur


  1. Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman (Book credit Diksha Sinha)




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