Pasadena, California: January to March 1951.
Mimeographed leaves printed rectos only, , 84 pp. 4to (275 x 207 mm). One of the earliest printed records of the great educator’s teaching methods. Bound in 20th-century red library buckram, spine lettered in gilt. With figures and diagrams in the text. Ex-library, withdrawn from Caltech Physics Library (referred to as Copy 2), with corresponding library marks and blind stamps. Extremities lightly rubbed, cloth bright and contents clean, three neat tape repairs (title and p. 84v), pinholes visible at upper inner corners and a handful of very small closed tears. Overall a very good copy James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, 1992; David Kaiser, Kenji Ito, & Karl Hall, “Spreading the Tools of Theory: Feynman Diagrams in the USA, Japan and the Soviet Union”, Social Studies of Science, December 2004; David Kaiser, “Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams”, American Scientist, vol. 93, 2005. Item #329937
A rare mimeographed set of lecture notes made by students of Richard Feynman very early in his academic career, preceding the famous Lectures on Physics by over a decade. The notes provide crucial documentation of Feynman’s interest in particle physics subsequent to the completion of his theory of quantum electrodynamics, and are a major source for understanding the evolution of Feynman diagrams.
Copies of this particular lecture series and, indeed, any recorded notes from Feynman’s early career are uncommon. He had not yet won the Nobel Prize nor published a work of popular science; few were aware of his growing reputation. Copies of such notes were printed in very small numbers for distribution among students and colleagues, and it is widely accepted that many were discarded later.
We know of only two lecture series published earlier than High Energy Phenomena and Meson Theories. The series Quantum Electrodynamics was delivered at Cornell in autumn 1949, with notes prepared by H. L. Brode: no copies are listed by WorldCat or Library Hub, none are recorded at auction, and one copy has been traced in private hands (“copy in the possession of Sam Schweber”, the American theoretical physicist; Kaiser 2004, p. 915). The series Quantum Electrodynamics and Meson Theories was delivered at Caltech from 6 February to 2 March 1950, with notes prepared by Carl W. Holstrom and Malvin A. Ruderman: no copies are listed by WorldCat or Library Hub, none are recorded at auction, and we have seen two appear in trade. This is only the third copy of High Energy Phenomena and Meson Theories that we have handled: WorldCat locates copies at Stanford, UCLA, and Caltech (with Library Hub adding none further), and just one copy has appeared at auction, described as “a variant issue, without page numbers and running titles”, from the library of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Yoichiro Nambu. Kaiser records copies of both the latter series as also in the possession of Sam Schweber.
Beyond these three lecture series, printed notes exist for a single talk which Feynman gave at the University of Michigan Summer Symposium in 1949, titled A New Approach to Quantum Electrodynamics. These notes - 51 pages, prepared by Morton Fuchs and R. J. Riddell, Jr. - are more readily available than the three lecture series. WorldCat and Library Hub locate five copies, all in the US, at the University of Michigan (digitised), Purdue University, Naval Research Laboratory, NJ Institute for Advanced Study Library, and the American Institute of Physics.
After leaving the Manhattan Project, Feynman’s first teaching position was at Cornell, but he soon chafed at the atmosphere of the university. “He seemed to think that Cornell was alternately too large and too small - an isolated village with only a diffuse interest in science outside the confines of its physics department” (Gleick, p. 277). Once Robert Bacher - a colleague from the Manhattan Project - was appointed the administrator of Caltech’s physics department, he sought out Feynman for a position. Feynman visited during February and March 1950, possibly as part of the recruitment process, and presented the lecture series Quantum Electrodynamics and Meson Theories. Feynman officially began his tenure as Caltech’s Richard Chase Tolman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the beginning of 1951, and between January and March of that year he presented the series High Energy Phenomena and Meson Theories.
Said series focussed on particle physics, particularly the search for mesons, and was aimed at an advanced audience of graduate students and fellow professors. Of particular interest is the frequent use of Feynman diagrams, the famous notational system that Feynman developed for quantum electrodynamics, and that he had first presented publicly only a few years before at the 1948 Pocono Conference. Though Feynman diagrams would eventually redefine physics, they were not yet fully accepted by the wider community. Despite this, they began to be adopted by fields distinct from quantum electrodynamics, including high energy physics. “Dozens of new nuclear particles, such as mesons... were turning up in the new government-funded particle accelerators of postwar America. Charting the behavior of all these new particles thus became a topic of immense experimental as well as theoretical interest. Yet the diagrams did not have an obvious place in the new studies. Feynman and Dyson had honed their diagrammatic techniques for the case of weakly interacting electrodynamics, but nuclear particles interact strongly... Precisely for this reason, Feynman cautioned Enrico Fermi late in 1951, ‘Don’t believe any calculation in meson theory which uses a Feynman diagram!’” (Kaiser 2005, p. 164).
The graduate students who compiled and published these notes were Carl W. Helstrom (1925-2013), a pioneer of quantum information theory; Malvin A. Ruderman (b. 1927), now on the faculty of Columbia University, where he specialises in “collapsed objects in astrophysics, especially neutron stars” (Columbia faculty bio); and William Karzas (1889-1963), who later worked with Murray Gell-Mann at the RAND Corporation. Dr Ruderman has confirmed that he and his colleagues were asked specifically by the department to make notes on “several connected lectures by Feynman”, due to his growing prominence in the physics community.
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