I know the day’s almost over, but it’s still important to recognize that today would have been Richard Feynman’s 100th birthday. Feynman doesn’t “feel” 100 years old in my mind; after all, cancer took him when he was still 69. He didn’t get to have an extended period of being a grand old emeritus professor, frail and stooped. No wonder we still remember the wisecracking young guy.
Physics Today put up a link to a 2017 story about the inside of the youthful Feynman’s calculus notebook. Another writer for that magazine admits that Feynman’s humor could be exasperating at times. My guess is that the #MeToo movement would have tripped him up at some point. (To be fair, though, he encouraged his younger sister to become a scientist in her own right.)
Physics World also has a block of Feynman-at-100 stories on its home page; this British publication’s best-of package includes a couple of reviews of past plays about Feynman, a more general piece about physicists and science writers, and — my favorite — Virginia Trimble‘s tale of posing au naturel for a Feynman drawing session. (She was actually on my second-year project committee when I was in graduate school, and she’ll hit her own three-quarter-century mark later this year.)
I’ve read books by Feynman and books about Feynman. When I was studying undergraduate physics, our campus physics club rented 16-mm copies of the Feynman lectures that went into his book The Character of Physical Law (YouTube hadn’t been invented yet). At one point, the camera operator cut to a closeup shot of someone in the audience, and we UMass students glimpsed our future professor, Eugene Golowich, then finishing up his doctorate at Cornell, leaning back in his seat with a slight smile on his face. He taught very well himself — and I can’t help thinking that Feynman had a bit of influence on him.
As I write this entry, the first part of Caltech’s Feynman 100 celebration is taking place in Pasadena (there’s that bit of time difference between East and West). His sister, at age 91, is still able to participate in the program. So wonderful!
I’m happy to report that I’m keeping busy with my writing. So far this year I’ve had three feature articles published in Optics & Photonics News — two of them open-access cover stories.
First, I wrote about the technology behind Breakthrough Starshot, the Yuri Milner-funded plan to send an army of tiny laser-powered satellites to the stars. Since this topic was more speculative than the usual OPN subjects, I half expected a barrage of letters complaining that a serious scientific publication should never publish such pie-in-the-sky tripe. But no. My editor did get one letter decrying the high cost of the proposal, but the author decided against allowing OPN to publish his missive. Oh, well.
I’m sure there’s a lot of doubt out there — to wit, a recent Popular Mechanics article on Starshot was subtitled “Inside the Ludicrous Plan to Send a Spacecraft to Our Neighbor Star.” That piece, however, ends on a far more hopeful note than the subtitle would lead you to believe.
By the time my Starshot article was published, I had already written my next cover story on the future of the optics workforce. My inspiration for this one was my idle wonderment about all the articles I’ve read about the displacement of manufacturing jobs by robots and offshoring and whatnot.
I’m finishing another OPN feature article this week — whether it will be on the cover is of course yet TBD. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that this week marks the 48th anniversary of the first lunar landing by humans. You may choose to celebrate by rereading my article on optics in the Apollo program. I’ll leave you with an optics-related photo from the Apollo Archive:
Neil Armstrong watches as Buzz Aldrin practices using a camera during a geology field trip in Texas, early 1969. NASA photo via the Apollo Archive.
Wouldn’t you know … as soon as I say I’m going to do something like a series of Women’s History Month posts, something gets in the way (like a late-winter head cold and various obligations to volunteer organizations), and then I don’t do it. Apologies to my readers.
I would still like to write a few posts related to living female scientists, though, even if they’re just “Women’s History” and not “Women’s History Month.” Watch for them soon.
In the meantime, if you’re an OSA member, please check out my latest feature article for OPN. I’ll add a PDF of it to my personal online library in a few weeks.
I just published in, literally, a new medium for me: the website Medium.com. I stumbled upon the website some months ago, probably because one of my hundreds of Facebook friends linked to an article there. Ever since, I’ve been itching to try it out, and the stars finally aligned for me to do so (sorry about the astrology reference).
I have no idea how to gauge readership of a piece, so I’ll just have to post a bunch of links to it in all the usual social-media outposts and see what happens.
Since the event that inspired me to write the piece happens tomorrow (Wednesday, May 21), I had really wanted to publish this several days ago. However, I had a weekend stomach bug that made it difficult for me to think 1,500-word thoughts and make them semi-coherent.
Anyway, please feel free to check out my tale of a small town auctioning off its prized Norman Rockwell painting: https://medium.com/p/78f084c621b4. Enjoy!
One weird thing about me: I’ve got a phobia when it comes to dentistry. I don’t mind any other medical procedures — I made my first blood donation at the tender age of 17, and I have experience with the other end of the needle too (I had to give one of my cats insulin shots for the last 14 months of his life). But dentistry … give me the good (legal) drugs, please.
So I’m always happy to read of products that can reduce the time spent in the dentist’s chair, such as the report of a faster-hardening composite material for fillings. The Austrian researchers say that the new composite material contains a tiny amount of germanium and can be “cured” in thicker layers, which means that your dentist doesn’t have to alternate as much between packing the material into the tooth and holding up the little blue light that photoactivates the material.
I haven’t investigated this further, and I suppose that U.S. officials will have to approve the material before it can be offered to dentists on this side of the Atlantic. Still, I have some old fillings that will need replacement eventually, so I’ll keep this in mind.
(I really wish I could face the laser rather than the noise and vibration of the drill, but my dentist tells me that the presence of my old fillings makes it impossible to drill with a laser. Apparently, lasers are only for teeth that have never had cavities.)
Things have been busy around here for a while now, as I juggle my freelance assignments with the acquisition of some gently used furniture from a retiring couple who are moving out of state (and all the rearranging and cleaning that goes with the latter). However, I am absolutely glued to the TV for one hour every Sunday night, the exact duration of an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. I hope you’re watching Cosmos as well, and I promise I’ll write more about it before the series comes to an end. In the meantime, I “reposted” that Annie Jump Cannon essay from another blog — WordPress.com makes it entirely TOO easy to “reblog” someone else’s work, so I just wanted to emphasize that I did not write it; I just enjoyed reading it.
My blog has a brand-new look! I was tired of the small type of the previous theme, and WordPress.com had seen fit to retire it anyway, so I shopped around for a fresher design. Please let me know what you think.