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Privatdozent Photo Edition #7
John von Neumann, Richard P. Feynman and Stanislaw Ulam (~1949)
Richard P. Feynman (1918-88) was only 22 years old when World War II broke out, but still managed to get hired to J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67)’s Manhattan Project in 1943. Before he left Oppenheimer personally phoned the young Feynman, who still an undergraduate, to let him know that he had found a hospital in New Mexico for his wife Arline, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis. In Los Alamos, Feynman worked for Hans Bethe (1906-2005)’s theoretical division, eventually being promoted to group leader. In collaboration with Bethe, one of Feynman’s main contributions to the project was the Bethe-Feynman formula for calculating the yield of a fission bomb.
John von Neumann (1903-57) was by 1943 an established mathematician who had made significant contributions to set theory, quantum mechanics, game theory and economics before arriving in Los Alamos. Beginning in the late 1930s, von Neumann developed an expertise in explosives and the mathematics of shaped charges, which would eventually secure him a number of military consultancies—including the Manhattan Project. His main contribution to the project (among several) was the concept and design of the explosive lenses that were needed to compress the plutonium core of the Fat Man weapon that was later dropped on Nagasaki.
In the photograph von Neumann and Feynman are in conversation with von Neumann’s longtime friend Stanislaw Ulam (1909-84) a few years after the war ended.
Related Privatdozent newsletters:
The Unparalleled Genius of John von Neumann, May 19th 2021
When Feynman met Dirac, April 5th 2021
The Eccentricities of J. Robert Oppenheimer, May 19th 2021
The Golden Age of Quantum Physics, Sep 3rd 2021
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The photograph has been colourized for effect. Send inquiries about unwanted use/copyright claims to privatdozent @ protonmail.com.