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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