Feynman in comics

with @estuan about #Feynman #Ottaviani #Myrick #comics #physics
Italian version written with Maria-Angela Silleni.
Feynman by Ottaviani and Myrick, reported by Maria Popova as one of the top 11 scientific popular books of 2012, is a splendid example of how to make interesting science. Even with the comics.
Telling a man’s life is always an arduous and difficult task. So it is necessary to make choices, often focusing on successes and leaving aside failures, especially if you talk about a physicist who has been interested in the most disparate fields within his specialization.
This is the some idea that Lawrence Krauss has dealt with the life of Richard Feynman in Quantum Man and the same spirit seems to animate Feynman, the graphic novel by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick.
Introducing Feynman?
After the series of Introducing, a hybrid of illustrated and comic books about science, one of the most effective comics dedicated to science, brings the signature of Ottaviani, which, on the pages of Suspended In Language, with the contribution of the comic artist Leland Purvis, told the life of Niels Bohr, the master of the Copenhagen School, whose interpretation of quantum mechanics dominated during the first steps of this new approach of physics to nature.
Ottaviani knows very well the risks in comic book science genre: in particular, falling into teaching and slamming the reader into boredom is always around the corner; so thanks to an episode narrative (which is also a limit, as we shall see below), accompanied by synthetic drawings, the volume reaches the disclosure purpose without betraying the aspect of entertainment.
A great role in the success of the graphic novel is dued by the subject: Feynman, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, was an eccentric character with a strong sense of humor and impatient with social conventions. Thanks to these features he often found himself in embarrassing situations with unexpected consequences. A passionate bongo player and amateur sketcher of naked women, picked up his two-volume adventures, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, which wrote to seem not overly serious: and most of the episodes narrated in the comic are getting from his autobiographical stories.
You are watching the first steps of a child Feynman in the field of scientific curiosity, formal ceremonies for the delivery of the Nobel Prize and parties at the Cern of Geneva; the diagnosis of cancer and the latest collaboration with NASA. Episodes, with a very variable length, are chronologically or logically linked, without a precise rule. This structure with the absence of a real break between the chapters, indicated only by a small caption, can cause in the reader a few moments of disorientation.
The strength of the comic is, on the other hand, Leyland’s ability to represent Feynman’s ideas: he drawned images that seem to get out of the head of the physicist, and reproduced the diagrams that have revolutionized how to perform calculations in quantum electrodynamics (QED). It is precisely because of his contribution to that theory that won the Nobel for Physics in 1965, along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, who independently reproduced Feynman’s own results. However, his approach is more effective because it graphically represents the interaction between particles (represented as lines or waves, depending on whether they are electrons or protons on one side or photons on the other) without losing any generality(1), recapturing the spirit of graphic demonstrations of ancient Greeks.
Feynman’s microverse
The QED was certainly the most important and well-known contribution to physics and science by Richard Feynman: he has devoted to it much of his didactic and divulgative activity, especially since 1978. Many of the passages in the book of Ottaviani and Leyland put in this strange theory of light and matter are taken from the QED book, which collects a cycle of lectures on the subject, as well as others are drawn from the Six Easy Pieces and the Six Not So Easy Pieces: we are referring to the chapters QED in NZ or QED in CA, devoted to his physics lectures in New Zealand and California. Inevitably in these passages the use of captions becomes predominant, and reading requires a further concentration, though supported by the graphical apparatus, largely resumed by that created by Feynman himself.
His collaboration with the Manhattan Project, then, is faithfully portrayed by Los Alamos from below, a text of a conference in which the physicist recalls that period contained within the collection of essays The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, which has the credit to show faithfully Feynman’s passion for joke, lightness, and science. And then there is his revolutionary lecture on miniaturization, also collected on The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, fundamental because it has in fact started nanotechnological research, thanks to the challenge that speech had launched:
It is my intention to offer a prize of $1000 to the first guy who can take the information on the page of a book and put it on an area 1/25000 smaller in linear scale in such manner that it can be read by an electron microscope.
And I want to offer another prize-if I can figure out how to phrase it so that I don’t get into a mess of arguments about definitions—of another $1000 to the first guy who makes an be controlled from the outside and, not counting the lead-in wires, is only 1/64 inch cube.(2)
Together with consulence for NASA about the Challenger disaster, the talk leaves the reader the sensation of the great ease that the US physicist had to propose simple but effective and fundamentally correct ideas.
The graphic novel loses some sides about Feynman, as a scientist, and partly as a character (for example, his idea of beauty opposed to that of the artist, or his positions regarding pseudoscience and religion, or his failures in the field of research), but return to the reader a simple and direct portrait of one of the greatest theoretical physicists of the twentieth century.
  1. The first diagrams appeared informally in 1948 and then in 1949 in real articles, see for example Space-Time Approach to Quantum Electrodynamics (pdf). A complete history of the diagrams is on David Kaiser's Physics and Feynman’s Diagrams (pdf)
  2. There’s plenty of room at the bottom, Caltech Engineering and Science, Volume 23:5

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="http://www.fieldofscience.com/">FoS</a> = FoS