Few theoretical physicists have managed to transcend the scientific community and enter the popular consciousness as Richard Feynman. With his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, his brilliant, inspiring, lighthearted and fun-loving personality reached millions. As accessible as Feynman was able to make the rigorous scientific world in which he was a key player, his contributions to physics were groundbreaking and earned him a Nobel Prize.
On 30 November, Sotheby’s will offer Feynman’s Nobel Prize along with a collection of the celebrated scientist’s manuscripts and his personal research library, which will headline the second-annual History of Science & Technology auction.
Feynman received the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work, with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichiro Tomonaga, in remaking the theory of quantum electrodynamics. His invention of ‘Feynman diagrams’ – pictorial representations of particle interactions – revolutionized the field. He is also considered by many to be the father of nanotechnology; in a 1959 talk entitled, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” he proposed a challenge to the scientific community to start thinking on a very small scale, personally offering two prizes. A series of lectures on introductory physics that Feynman gave at Caltech between 1961–63 was edited and published as “The Feynman Lectures of Physics,” which is thought to be the most popular physics book ever written.
Among the many fascinating and personal objects being offered at Sotheby’s this November is a trove of manuscripts spanning the full length of Feynman’s career, from his early contributions to the Manhattan Project to the work made during his long tenure at Caltech. Collectively these manuscripts speak to Feynman’s remarkable range of scientific contribution including the Atom Bomb, Quantum Electrodynamics, Computing, Organic Chemistry, Nanotechnology, Mathematics and Physics. The archive also includes books from his personal research library, many annotated, as well as his tambourine.
Select highlights will be on view in London from 14–16 September before the full auction exhibition opens in New York on 25 November.
Vice President, Senior Specialist
Books & Manuscripts /Science & Technology