As I have just turned 47 I thought that I would write about the two
physicists that changed my life forever. The first is John Wheeler, a true giant
in physics who began by making ground-breaking discoveries in quantum, nuclear,
and particle physics; changed over to relativity (even being responsible for the
name "black hole"), and then switched to information theory. Interestingly
enough, Wheeler was Feynman's advisor at Princeton, and later became a
colleague. I had the opportunity to call him on the phone and we talked for the
better part of an hour; at the time I was only 13.
The other physicist is Richard Feynman. I do not consider the brief encounter with him (where I heard of his discovery of a hole in the fence at Los Alamos) as more than an active form of eavesdropping. I taught myself physics when I was going into high school (a long time ago). I used the Feynman lectures for this task. I had acquired a copy of the three red paperbacks and by the time I finished them I was amazed at the vistas they opened up. I devoured them! I made copious notes on the pages (which began to fall out of the book!) Every time a read a lecture I would think of something I hadn't thought of before, made a new connection, something clicked.
Recently I have begun collecting the audio lectures. I have to say that while Professors Leighton and Sands have done a great job in translating the lectures from the audio to the printed word, there is no substitute for the stage-craft, humor, and passion that Feynman injects into every lecture.
As the President of an amateur science organization I regularly recommend the lectures, and play those that I have when they are relevant. Everyone finds them interesting, understandable, and entertaining!
I only wish that I could express to Professor Feynman what his work has meant to me over the years. At least one person has learned physics from his efforts, I do not believe that I am alone. While he was afraid that his lectures were a failure, I wish I could tell him that this was (in my opinion) the only significant error of substance in the lectures.
George E. Hrabovsky