Two Feynman Courses on Physics

Feynman at the research meeting in Wangerooge in 1988 (see here)

I started out my career as a theoretical physicist and I’ve written a number of blog posts relating to this topic and period. The most popular have been those that featured Richard Feynman (I have an incidental connection to him as I co-organised the last conference he spoke at, see picture above).

I’ve recently come across some lectures of his that I wasn’t aware of, one set from the 1960s, the other from the 1980s. They are both quite technical, the former aimed at general and research scientists and the other at postgraduate physicists.

However, even if you do not have this specialised background, it may be interesting to take a quick look. The lectures are mainly of historical interest but still fascinating as they give an insight into the unique way that Feynman thought about things.

Feynman Lectures given at the Hughes Corporation
These are pdfs of notes taken by John Neer, who attended a course Feynman gave to general scientists at the Hughes Aircraft Corporation during 1966-71. How the notes came about is explained here.

Screenshot of website, see here

The course covered

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Cosmology (224 pages)
  • Relativity, Electrostatics, Electrodynamics (209 pages)
  • Quantum Mechanics and QED (314 pages)
  • Molecular Biology (65 pages)
  • Mathematical Methods in Physics and Engineering (163 pages)

They reflect the ideas and understanding of these areas at that time and there have obviously been many developments since.

Desciption of Volume 3 of the Hughes Lectures

Sample page from Volume 3

These physics lectures can be seen alongside the very beautiful digital version of the famous undergraduate course he gave at Caltech (entirely free and available here).

Screenshot of main web page for the Caltech Feynman Lectures

Feynman Lectures on the Strong Interactions given at Caltech
This was an specialist research-level course he gave at Caltech towards the end of his life (he died in 1988). The notes were taken and collated by James Cline and are available as a free pdf (see here).

“These twenty-two lectures, with exercises, comprise the extent of what was meant to be a full-year graduate-level course on the strong interactions and QCD, given at Caltech in 1987-88. The course was cut short by the illness that led to Feynman’s death. Several of the lectures were finalized in collaboration with Feynman for an anticipated monograph based on the course. The others, while retaining Feynman’s idiosyncrasies, are revised similarly to those he was able to check. His distinctive approach and manner of presentation are manifest throughout.”

To give a feel of the technical level, see the screenshot below. They’re interesting as they also include some research problems he was interested in at the time.

Contents of the Feynman Course on the Strong Interactions

If any of the above sounds interesting but unintelligible/daunting, some excellent preparatory reading at a lucid and descriptive level is provided by:

QED – The Strange Theory of Light and Matter is a fascinating book by Feynman originally published in 1988 that focuses on the breakthrough in the understanding of the interaction of light and matter (new edition with intro by Anthony Zee published in 2014). Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 (together with Schwinger and Tomonaga) for this achievement. The book (aimed at a popular audience) also mentions the successful extension of these ideas to the other known interactions and particles. After reading this, you could then try

Lectures on Particle Physics by David Tong of Cambridge University (free pdf)
The four (fully up-to-date) lectures cover, using few equations; quantum fields, the strong and weak forces and ‘things we don’t know’.

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