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On a recent trip to an old bookstore on a coastal Washington town, I found in the science section a nicely bound book which I had read decades before. Titled simply QED (quantum electrodynamics), this was a book by one of my absolute favorite scientists, Richard Feynman.

For those that may not recognize the name, Richard Feynman, in addition to being a Nobel prize winning physicist and all-around hooligan (read his series of books entitled “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”), I believe him to have been perhaps the finest Physics lecturer that there ever was. His ability to communicate incredibly difficult concepts in a manner that even a freshman in college could understand dramatically set him apart from so many others that attempted the same.

This is this background on which to understand QED. It is the compilation of four lectures that were given at UCLA as part of a new physics series to explain even complicated science to the public. It is a great success!

Have you ever wanted to understand how light works? I mean how it really works, not just the straight lines bouncing with angle of incidence equal to angle of reflection…see there is this whole thing known as the quantum revolution which changed how we thought about all these things.

It really can be exemplified by one experiment, The double slit experiment where light is shown to act like a particle and a wave (not a particle)! I’ll let you read the Wikipedia on that, but suffice it to say, Feynman’s explanation of the double split experiment is simply genius. I’ve taken quite a bit of quantum as part of my education, and his manner of explaining probability amplitudes was refreshing even now.

This is a great short book to read, if you’d like to wrestle casually with some real physics.

Now I’d be remiss in bringing up Feynman, if I didn’t mention his magnum opus: The Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. I can remember reading them one summer break in high school, so excited to be heading to college to study Physics for real…quite simply, Volume 3 (quantum mechanics) sealed the deal for me. I knew that I wanted to study physics, and I’m very glad that I did…and still do to a much lesser degree.

I’ve never once regretted that physics was my program of study, for it truly taught me to reason through problems in ways that have been valuable my whole career. Reading outside of my profession has always been a source of inspiration, and I can say without reservation, the contributions I made at Amazon were clearly because I was a physicist, not a computer scientist…they already had thousands of those!

Tagged with: science