Saturday, January 29, 2011

Twenty Five Years And One Day Ago

Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. An event eulogized and analyzed into oblivion. I remember watching it live on TV in NYC. I was at work at my job as a graphic designer, etc...It was a slow day, I was in the office alone, answering phones and had the TV on.
It took a few minutes to sink in. Then it was replayed over and over again.
In later weeks, as the investigation as to what had actually occurred transpired, I became aware of the physicist, Richard Feynman, who was the man who had years before blown the whistle on the fatal silicone O Ring gaskets that were the final culprits in the disaster.
Feynman's warning had been brushed off by NASA. His ability to simply explain concepts and demonstrate his ideas in the testimony were evidence of one of the greatest inquisitive scientific minds of the 20th Century:
.Richard Phillips Feynman (pronounced /ˈfaɪnmən/, May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics (he proposed the parton model). For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, jointly with Julian Schwingerand Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. He developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world.
He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb and was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing, and introducing the concept of nanotechnologyHe held the Richard Chace Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.
Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures, notably a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom and The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman also became known through his semi-autobiographical books (Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?) and books written about him, such as Tuva or Bust!
Feynman also had a deep interest in biology, and was a friend of the geneticist and microbiologist Esther Lederberg, who developed replica plating and discovered bacteriophage lambda. They had several mutual physicist friends who, after beginning their careers in nuclear research, moved for moral reasons into genetics, among them Max DelbruckLeó SzilárdGuido Pontecorvo, and Aaron Novick.
As well as his Scientific side, Feynman had a very eccentric playful side. He was well known as a very creative and enthusiastic bongo player....then he became obsessed with the small Central Asian Soviet Republic of Tuva.
In fact the Tuvans regard him as a hero, he is responsible for the interest in their very singular unique culture. Though, in his lifetime, he was never actually allowed by the Soviets to visit Tuva shortly after his death in 1988, he was belatedly granted permission.
Today, Tuvan culture survives and thrives, thanks to the spotlight projected upon it by this unique man, Richard Feynman.  Tuva has a musical tradition based on a technique called "throat singing". They are a distinct culture that evolved on horseback, much of their lineage dates to the time of Ghengis Khan.
Throat singing technique involves a form of circular breathing, the ability to inhale and exhale at the same time and create sounds  vibrations with the vocal chords that create overtones. When, as in the tradition of Tuvan music, multiple singers create these over tones, they create a third, ghost part, so to speak. You hear another sound which is the result of soundwaves refracting and interacting with each other. Here is a performance of the Tuvan Group, Huun Huur Tu, at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2006. A part of the legacy of one of the finest most agile minds of the 20th century, Richard Feynman!

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