Two Nobel laureates on teaching

Richard Feynman was an American physicist known for expanding the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and particle theory. He was also famous as an unscrupulous prankster. He was a proud amateur painter and bongo player. For his work on quantum electrodynamics, Feynman was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

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 is credited with the concept and early exploration of quantum computing, and publicly envisioning nanotechnology, creation of devices at the molecular scale.

As well as being an inspirational lecturer, bongo player, notorious practical joker, and decipherer of Maya hieroglyphs, Richard Feynman was regarded as an eccentric and a free spirit. He liked to pursue multiple seemingly independent paths, such as biology, art, percussion, and lock picking. Freeman Dyson once wrote that Feynman as "half-genius, half-buffoon", but later revised this to "all-genius, all-buffoon".

This is from Richard Feynman's entry in Wikipedia. The part that I find of most interest, however, is this:

He [...] eventually chose to work at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena, California, despite being offered a position near Princeton, at the Institute for Advanced Study (which included such distinguished faculty members as Albert Einstein). Feynman rejected the Institute on the grounds that there were no teaching duties. Feynman found his students to be a source of inspiration and, during uncreative times, comfort. He felt that if he could not be creative, at least he could teach.

Feynman is sometimes called the "Great Explainer"; he took great care when explaining topics to his students, making it a moral point not to make a topic arcane, but instead accessible to others. His principle was that if a topic could not be explained in a freshman lecture, it was not yet fully understood.

Reading about Feynman, I remembered having seen similar sentiments expressed by someone closer to home. The following excerpt is from Robert Solow's Nobel acceptance speech:

I estimate that if I had neglected the students, I could have written 25 percent more scientific papers. The choice was easy to make and I do not regret it.

by datacharmer | Tuesday, May 15, 2007
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  1. Anonymous Says:

    Do you see yourself in Feynman?

  2. datacharmer Says:

    I wish.