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Published 1999 | Published
Book Section - Chapter Open

Feynman as a colleague


Feynman and I both arrived at Caltech in 1952 - he as a new professor of physics, and I as a freshman undergraduate. My passionate interest was electronics, and I avidly consumed any material I could find on the subject: courses, seminars, books, etc. As a consequence, I was dragged through several versions of standard electromagnetic theory: E and B, D and H, curls of curls, the whole nine yards. The only bright light in the subject was the vector potential, to which I was always attracted because, somehow, it made sense to me. It seemed a shame that the courses I attended didn't make more use of it. In my junior year, I took a course in mathematical physics from Feynman - what a treat. This man could think conceptually about physics, not just regurgitate dry formalism. After one quarter of Feynman, the class was spoiled for any other professor. But when we looked at the registration form for the next quarter, we found Feynman as teaching high-energy physics, instead of our course. Bad luck! When our first class met, however, here came Feynman. "So you're not teaching high-energy physics?" I asked. "No" he replied, "low-energy mathematics." Feynman liked the vector potential too; for him it was the link between electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. As he put it "In the general theory of quantum electrodynamics, one takes the vector and scalar potentials as fundamental quantities in a set of equations that replace the Maxwell equations." I learned enough about it from him to know that, some day, I wanted to do all of electromagnetic theory that way.

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© 1999 Perseus Books.

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