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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So I thought I would make a thread for us science nerds to celebrate our favorite scientists throughout history.

I'll start off with one of my favorites: Richard Feynman



Richard Feynman was born in 1918 to two ethnically Jewish parents in Queens, New York. Although he wasn't widely regarded as amazingly intelligent in his youth, by the time he was 15, he taught himself trigonometry, advanced algebra, infinite series, analytic geometry, and both differential and integral calculus as a means to prepare himself for the rigorous physics that he knew he wanted to pursue at university level. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was "inventing" many topics in advanced mathematics and writing them with his own notation such as the Taylor series of operators and the half derivative. He entered M.I.T. as a freshman with an aim to study theoretical physics and graduated with a bachelor's in 1939. While he was there, he actually took every single course on physics M.I.T. offered, acing graduate level courses while still a sophomore. After this period he applied to Princeton's graduate school, attaining a literally perfect score on the math and physics sections respectively, something that no one had done before. His scores on the history and English portions were severely lacking though, and although he was an "avowed atheist", people at Princeton still didn't want to let him in because he was ethnically Jewish. Thankfully, more sensible heads prevailed and he was admitted to Princeton where he was allowd to study with the great physicist John Archibald Wheeler. Together with Wheeler, Feynman put forward the absorber theorem and was granted his PHD in 1942. Although the absorber theorem turned out to be incorrect, it helped lay the groundwork for the path integral approach he would later develop, which would win him the nobel prize.

Shortly after this period he went on to work at Los Alamos laboratory to work on the atomic bomb effort. He basically invented the first parallel processing computer, orchestrating the wives of the scientists into a "human" computing network. He also helped Hans Bethe develop a formula for calculating the yield of a fission weapon, and helped to calculate the properties of fission reactors. It was also here that Feynman began to show his jokester side a bit more. He was bored and so he would go around picking locks on superconfidential documents (because he knew his physicist friends would pick safe codes like the logarithm of the natural numbers) and leave fake notes from a Soviet spy just to mess with his best friends! He would also go into the desert alll alone with his bongo drum, to drum in the ancient style of the Native Americans.

After the war was over Feynman became depressed and felt alot of guilt about how he had helped to develop the bomb. He was at Cornell University in the period directly after the war and one day he saw a student throw a plate of food into the air in the cafeteria. He became fixated, watching the circular plate spin in the air and decided he would develop a formula to calculate the angular momentum of the thing. When he told other physicists at Cornell about it, they told him that it was a useless problem, to which he replied: "who cares? its fun!". After this moment he very shortly worked out the things that lead to him earning a share in the nobel prize. The relativistic quantum field theory of the time had the unfortuante habit of predicting nonsense, like an infinite probability that something would happen. In 1946 Sini-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger would independently come up with the same method to cancel the infinites and it was a great success. During the same year, Feynman came up with a completely different way to cancel the infinites, using his path integral formalism and his famed Feynman diagrams. His path integral formalism said that you had to include every possible path that a particle could take from point A to point B, that you had to "sum over" all possible histories. He extended this to his diagrams, simple diagrams that show how particles interact over time and allow one to calculate probabilities for various elementary processes in the interactions of charged particles. Feynman diagrams have been extended to include all particles, and today are one of the most frequently used tools in a theoreticla physicists handbag. Although some people thought that the Feynman technique was B.S., in 1949 Freeman Dyson demonstrated how all three approaches were equivalent, and also showed that Feynman diagrams have their own reality constituting a real language with a formal grammar. Because of this, in 1965 Feynman shared the nobel prize with Schwinger and Tomonaga. The way he fixed quantum electodynamics became the basis for all subsequently successful QFT's, and became the foundation of today's standard model of elementary particles.

I would continue to describe Feynman's incredible achievements but there are just too many. He was the first person to realize the potential of quantum computing and nano technology, and it can also be argued that his later work deserved more nobel prizes as well. Specifically, with Murray Gell-Mann, he showed how parity is violated in electroweak interactions and later on independently how protons must be made up of smaller constituents which he called "partons" but that we now understand as Quarks. He developed the leading theory for superfluid helium, putting mainstream helium physicists of the time to shame. What I liked about Feyman above all was that he never took himself or his knowledge to seriosly. He was always laughing at himself and making fun of himself. And he always expressed doubt about things he didn't know, and made it clear that it was ok not to know. Although he died early in 1988 at age 69, his contributions amount to several lifetimes of work.

Feynman was about as heroic as a scientist can be

 

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Hop on youtube and search "Scishow great minds"

Scishow is a good channel, and "great minds" is an ongoing series of theirs where they highlight famous scientists such as Tesla, Marie Curie, Mendeleev etc.

 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Turing was one of my favorites as well. He was such a tragic figure, and so horribly mistreated but holy shit was he brilliant.
 

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Someone else mentioned Tesla, very interesting life, and seems like he was ahead of his time.

A couple modern choices: Niel deGrasse Tyson and Michael Greene. I enjoy reading their books and how they can bring complex subjects in physics down to a more simple level. I don't see them being discussed much in 100 years, I guess that is unless String Theory gets some credible evidence of being correct.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Tesla was an inventor, not a scientist. Also i find it odd that people would pick popular science writers. Although they are great, they aren't the scientific par of people like Feynman, Einstein etc. Lets try and restrict the discussion to the most productive scientists who have made the biggest contributions.
 

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Tesla was an inventor, not a scientist. Also i find it odd that people would pick popular science writers. Although they are great, they aren't the scientific par of people like Feynman, Einstein etc. Lets try and restrict the discussion to the most productive scientists who have made the biggest contributions.
I think it's unfair to throw Tesla out of the discussion because you think he was more of an inventor than a scientist. People can fit into both categories. The man can be considered a genius in either one.

I actually meant to say Brian Greene, and I wasn't trying to say he's on par with Feynman, Heisenberg, Planck, or Dirac. But I respect his work.

You should probably edit your original post to include the last line in what I quoted or you're going to get more irrelevant posts like mine.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Brian Greene is a brilliant physicist, his studies of mirror symmetry in the context of string theory have unraveled new and brilliant mathematics that, regardless of whether or not it is experimentally verified, has led to the development of relationships between branches of mathematics that were once thought to be completely seperate. He has done alot of work that isn't (likely at least) to be experimentally verified anytime soon but that has had a big impact on the development of contemporary mathematics. Its hard to put Kaku et al. in the same boat, but I agree that the job of creating popularly accessible science books is a noble and necessary one.

Also the idea that Tesla was an inventor, not a physicist is one that is commonly held by the majority of the scientific community. Can you name five fundamental discoveries he made that were essential to the progress of physics at the time?
 

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Favorites?

Nah, I have a "people to go back and choke the fuck out when they come up with a time machine."

Coloumb, Gauss and Newton are pretty high up there for coming up with shit that I hate to do in class.
 
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Can you name five fundamental discoveries he made that were essential to the progress of physics at the time?
I can't name any of his fundamental discoveries, but whether he contributed to physics or science in general in that way to me doesn't exclude him from being a scientist. But no I wouldn't necessarily call him a physicist, I didn't realize we could only talk about physicists in this thread.

If I wanted to name a favorite in the field of physics I may choose someone more like Feedman, Clauser, and Aspect who performed experiments to demonstrate John Bell's theories about quantum entanglement. I think it's amazing that they could take Bell's theories and actually make an instrument to demonstrate what most people can't even wrap their heads around.
 

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Professor Doering. Loved him; miss him.



When William von Eggers Doering, a 26-year-old postdoctoral fellow under the direction of Robert Burns Woodward, completed the first formal synthesis of quinine at Harvard in the spring of 1944, the news made headlines in Time and Newsweek, and the New York Times called this work “one of the greatest scientific achievements in a century.” The success in making quinine not only promised access to the substance necessary for the cure of malaria, then a threat to U.S. soldiers fighting in southeast Asia, but also signaled the emergence of the United States as a world leader in chemical synthesis. For Doering, prowess in making chemical compounds may have made him an overnight sensation, but what fascinated him far more, and distinguished him in his later career, was the how and why of organic chemical reactions and the communication of his insights and technique to generations of students.

Doering’s parents, both musicians, met at the conservatory in Leipzig, Germany. The couple moved to the United States in 1915 and secured positions on the music faculty at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where William was born and spent his early childhood. Doering was raised in a Germanic environment, and he retained an affinity for things German most of his life. He kept a flat in the Black Forest where he hiked yearly, welcomed German postdoctoral fellows into his group and collaborated with many of them for the rest of his career, and occasionally even came to his Harvard laboratory clad in knickers and cape.

Doering’s father quickly found medicine more to his liking, and joined the faculty of the Harvard School of Public Health. William spent his school years at the Shady Hill School and Belmont Hill, becoming fascinated with science, Latin, the crafting of model airplanes, and explosions. As a Harvard undergraduate, he was attracted to the study of organic chemistry after taking courses with Louis Fieser, Elmer Kohler, and Paul Bartlett. Doering excelled in organic synthesis and considered pursuing graduate work in the subject, but mechanistic organic chemistry had greater appeal. He completed doctoral work in 1943 with Reginald Linstead on the stereochemistry of catalytic hydrogenation, then worked on the synthesis of anti-mustard gas compounds in Fieser’s laboratory until concerns were raised about a second cousin who had served as President of the Reichsbank under Hitler. Doering was recruited by Woodward to apply his expertise to a less sensitive project funded by the Polaroid Corporation, which became the synthesis of quinine. Towards the end of that project in 1943, Doering took up his first independent post at Columbia, returning to Harvard at intervals to complete the final, crucial steps.

Having almost been ejected from Harvard because of his family connections, Doering often described himself as an outsider and tended to avoid any research area that he perceived as crowded. Beginning with his Columbia appointment, Doering’s group deduced novel mechanistic insights, systematically exploring and relinquishing topics when others entered the field. His early work included the pioneering synthesis of the unusually stable tropylium ion, which opened the field of nonbenzenoid aromatic compounds, fundamental studies of carbenes, and the elucidation of the mechanism of insertion of singlet methylene into the carbon-hydrogen bond. Doering moved his graduate research group to Yale in 1952 and again to Harvard in 1967 when he became Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry. By the time he arrived at Harvard, his work had been recognized by election to the National Academy of Sciences, an honor achieved subsequently by five of his former graduate students. Doering eventually received many of the American Chemical Society’s top prizes, and he remains the only person ever to receive the ACS’s highest awards for both organic synthesis and mechanistic organic chemistry, an achievement that underscores the richness of Doering’s work, which extended over eight decades.

One of Doering’s signature achievements was his work on the mechanism of the Cope rearrangement, a tranformation considered so difficult to study that it was termed a “no- mechanism” reaction. Doering’s explorations led to elucidation of the transition state structure of the Cope rearrangement using a brilliantly simple stereochemical labeling experiment that has ever since been a mainstay of all advanced textbooks. Further efforts led to the prediction in 1963 and subsequent synthesis of a small hydrocarbon called bullvalene in honor of Bill “Bull” Doering. This extraordinary molecule rapidly undergoes over 1,000,000 different Cope rearrangements, resulting in each of its ten carbons becoming equivalent to one another.

Reform of Harvard’s undergraduate organic chemistry curriculum was another priority for Doering, with overhauls of Chemistry 20, for which he received standing ovations from his undergraduates at the end of every term, and the introduction of a laboratory course, Chemistry 135, that taught proficiency in synthetic technique and the planning of reactions. Both courses remain popular to this day. Doering took emeritus status in 1986 but continued to supervise postdoctoral fellows and publish for another 22 years. One of his greatest achievements in later years was opening the door to Chinese scholars. Realizing the dearth of knowledge of professors during a 1980 visit to China, he proposed a graduate program to bring promising students to universities in North America. The Chemistry Graduate Program, directed by Doering with support from the Chinese Ministry of Education, brought over 250 students universities in North America. The effects were enormous: the thousands of young Chinese who studied chemistry in North American Ph.D. programs as a direct result of Doering’s program established a new generation of chemical leaders in China. The CGP-Doering Foundation, named in his honor, continues to promote scientific exchange.

Doering’s many interests outside the lab included international politics. During the 1960s and 70s, he served as Chairman of the Board and President of the Council for a Livable World (CLW), which supported nuclear non-proliferation and arms control by lobbying and contributing to U.S. Senate campaigns.

William Doering is survived by two sons, Christian and Peter, and a daughter, Margaretta Doering Volk.
 
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