On Friday of last week, I participated in a fascinating event at Caltech in Pasadena in celebration of Richard Feynman’s contributions to science and education. It is just about 50 years since Feynman gave his famous talk entitled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” in which he set out a vision for nanoscience that is only now beginning to be realized. It is also 50 years since Feynman first gave his famous freshman “Lectures on Physics” that have educated generations of physicists; the workshop celebrated the publication of an electronic version of these lectures. The workshop used the now familiar TED format and was billed as a TEDx event where “x” signifies an independently organized event.
Michelle Feynman opened the meeting, which consisted of some wonderful talks, including some showing the progress that has been made towards realizing Feynman’s vision of nanoscience, some great videos and stories about Feynman, plus some musical interludes. The most spectacular musical event was the appearance of the Tuvan throat singer, Ondar, representing Feynman’s interest in Tuva, which he shared with Ralph Leighton. Christopher Sykes, TV producer and author of one of the best books on Feynman, No Ordinary Genius, introduced some clips from his BBC interviews with Feynman. Bill Gates, in a video, introduced Feynman’s famous Messenger Lectures.
Microsoft Research was represented at the event by Curtis Wong and me. Curtis gave a wonderful live demonstration of WorldWide Telescope and its ability to visualize and display the universe as never before. I talked about Feynman’s contributions to computing, from his days at Los Alamos; his Nobel Prize winning computational toolkit, called Feynman Diagrams; and his invention of quantum computing. I was fortunate enough to be asked by Feynman to edit his “Lectures on Computation,” which are a masterly survey of the limits to computing from mathematics, thermodynamics, noise, silicon engineering, and quantum mechanics.
Michael Roukes, co-director of the Caltech Kavli Nanoscience Institute, was the guiding light behind the event. The lectures will be posted at the TEDx Caltech website.