Free Videos of Feynman Physics Lectures at Cornell

Over twenty years ago while on vacation, Bill Gates (yes, the same Bill Gates that founded Microsoft) stumbled upon some videos of Richard Feynman presenting physics lectures at Cornell University. Bill Gates who loves science and this kind of stuff, found it “so engaging” that he watched it through a couple of times and thought that everyone should be given an opportunity to see this because these videos “makes science interesting, explains what physics is about, how physicists think”.1

In 2009 after he finally purchased all the rights to the video, Gates idea became a reality and the videos are now out there “for any young kid to click on and benefit from.”

Click Here to Watch the Feynmann Physics Lectures on Microsoft’s Project Tuva site.

About the Videos

The lectures was video taped 1964.  So is was way before the time of hand-held camcorders and YouTube.   That is why it they are in black and white and still have the circular movie count-down numbers prior to starting.  In fact, the video originally was on film contained in circular tin cans and you had to thread them onto a projector to watch2. Bill Gates later got them onto VHS video tapes and now into digital form for the web.

However, the audio can be heard well and the camera work of the original camera-person recording the lecture were excellent.  You can see the camera following Feynman across the stage and zoom in as he writes on the board and or presents slides.

In the style of Feynmann lectures, there is always a bit of humor.  So you will hear the audience (Cornell students) laughing.  The camera panes onto the students and it is interesting to see what it is like to be a student at the prestigious Ivy League Cornell University back then.

Richard Feynman popularized science

Not only are these lectures at Cornell, they are presented by the well-known Dr. Richard Feynman, an American physicists who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 for his work in quantum electrodynamics.3 Feynman also had a knack for making physics interesting and graspable. As Bill Gates puts it: “Feynman love people to learn science.”2

Bill Gates says, “I think someone who can make science interesting is magical. The person that did that better than anybody was Richard Feynman. He took the mystery of science, the importance of science, the strangeness of science, and made it fun and interesting and approachable. These Messenger lecture series that he gives are the best science lectures I have ever seen.”1

Feynman popularized science by writing books for the general public such as …

The first two listed are somewhat auto-biographical. Was he really a “curious character” as implied in the subtitle? Being that Feynman liked to play the bongo drums, pick locks, and crack safes, he was a bit different from your average physicists.

Okay, so he may be a bit of an eccentric and a free-spirit (unusual for physicists). But is he also genius? Wikipedia mentions that his IQ was measured at 125 in high school with 100 being normal intelligence. Perhaps that is why author James Gleick wrote a book about Feynman titled Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman.

In the 1960’s, Feynman also gave some celebrated lectures at Caltech (California Institute of Technology) which later became the books The Feynman Lectures on Physics which had been used as textbook in many universities. Six of the more approachable chapters have been extracted out into the book Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher and six more difficult ones into the book Six Not So Easy Pieces: Einstein’s Relativity, Symmetry and Space-Time.

Feynman’s Career

Feynman mastered calculus at age 15, got his bachelor’s degree from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1939 and his PhD from Princeton University in 1942.

Besides being a brilliant teacher at Cornell and Caltech, Feynman was involved in the Manhattan Project of buiding the atomic bomb, the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and developing the Feynman diagrams.

You can hear more about Feynman in the first lecture in the videos where a speaker gives an humorous introduction of Feynman and his career.

The Technology

The videos are hosted at the Microsoft Research website under Project Tuva. The site is built on Microsoft’s Silverlight technology which provides feature rich video and interactivity to a web page — equivalent to Adobe’s Flash technology. Therefore, when you watch these videos on Project Tuva, there are extra materials that you can click on for more information, you can make notes on the page as you watch, there are sub-titles for you to read along, and you can make the video full-screen.