Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has long had a fascination with Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman and Wednesday unveiled a public Web site of a seven-part lecture series the physicist delivered in 1964 at Cornell University.
Feynman was a scientific renaissance man -- a popular teacher, a pioneer in computing, a researcher, and an iconoclast with a quirky sense of humor. He ran the calculation center at the Los Alamos National Labs when the atomic bomb was being developed.
Feynman's Cornell lectures, still relevant today, are hosted by Microsoft Research under the "Tuva" name. Tuva is the tiny Russian republic that Feynman had long been interested in, but never was able to visit.
"No one was more adept at making science fun and interesting than Richard Feynman," said Gates in a statement. "More than 20 years after first seeing them, these are still some of the best science lectures I've heard. Feynman worked hard during his life to popularize science, so I'm sure he'd be thrilled that now anyone, anywhere in the world, can just click a button and experience his lectures"
At Los Alamos in 1943, most calculations were still carried out by human "calculators" -- typically women with superior mathematics ability. They were outpaced by desk calculators at first and then IBM tabulating machines with punch cards. But the IBM machines broke down and when Feynman learned to fix them, the calculations became more sophisticated.
Feynman's celebrated sense of humor also surfaced in Los Alamos where he playfully broke into many office safes to the consternation of the facility's security officers.
Gates sees Feynman's Cornell lectures, which are marked by the scientist's lucent style of presenting complex scientific subjects, as a vehicle for sparking interest in science among younger people. Originally filmed by the BBC at Cornell, the lectures were purchased by Gates.
Also working on the effort to put the lectures online was Curtis Wong, a Microsoft Research principal researcher, who has enhanced the lecture experience by integrating the historic video with a Microsoft Silverlight-based video player. Viewers can conduct targeted searches. "This is an opportunity to take some existing educational content and utilize software and the wealth of resources available on the Web to create a richer learning experience, Wong said.By W. David Gardner