The Best Teacher I Never Had

A video tribute from Bill Gates to Richard Feynman: phenomenal explainer, amazing scientist, and all-around colorful guy.


Richard Feynman was an incredible scientist. He spent most of his time at Caltech the idea of quantum physics, where all these particles interact in mysterious ways. He came up with a thing called Feynman diagrams that he won the Nobel Prize for. Perhaps even more importantly, he was an amazing teacher. He did a series of lectures which were for people who didn’t specialize in physics. It’s such a great example of how he could explain things in a fun and interesting way to anyone. And he was very funny.

Incidentally, at the time of Kepler, the problem of what drove the planets around the sun was answered by some people by saying that there were angels behind here, beating their wings and pushing the planet along around in orbit. As we’ll see, that answer is not very far from the truth, and the only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction, and their wings go…

Dr. Feynman used a tough process on himself, where if he didn’t really understand something, he would push himself: “Do I understand this boundary case?” “Do I understand why we don’t do it this other way?” “Do I really understand this?” And because he had pushed himself to have such a deep understanding, his ability to take you through the path of the different possibilities– was incredible.

Oxygen, for instance, in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they get near each other, they’ll snap together. If you can get it faster, by heating it somehow, someway, they come close enough to the carbon and snap-in, and that gives it a lot of jiggly motion. Which might hit some other atoms making those go faster so they can climb up and bump against other carbon atoms, and they jiggle and make others jiggle, and you get a terrible catastrophe. That catastrophe is a fire.

He’s taking something that is a little mysterious to most people and using very simple concepts to explain how it works. He doesn’t even tell you he’s talking about the fire until the very end, and you feel like you’re kind of figuring it out together with him. Feynman made science so fascinating, he reminded us how much fun it is, and everybody can have a pretty full understanding, So he’s such a joyful example of how we’d all like to learn and think about things.

Ali Kaya


Ali Kaya

This is Ali. Bespectacled and mustachioed father, math blogger, and soccer player. I also do consult for global math and science startups.

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