Microsoft hosts Feynman lecture series

Actual fun with physics

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Forget Windows 7, the most useful thing that Microsoft will do this year is host the videos of a famous lecture series given by Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman back in 1964, so anyone can watch them and see a brilliant man engaged with the workings of the physical world and the people he is trying to get hooked on physics.

When you are Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, you can own just about anything that you want. And as it turns out, Gates owns the rights to the seven-part lecture series given by Feynman at Cornell University in 1964.

The lectures, which will be hosted by Microsoft Research here under the name Project Tuva, after the central Asian republic that Feynman was trying to get to when he died of cancer in 1988, are lectures that the physicist gave just before he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics - along with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga - for cracking some pesky problems in quantum electrodynamics.

The BBC filmed the Cornell lectures, known as the Messenger Series, and Gates recently bought the rights to them with the intent of making them available free to the public, as a means of making science interesting.

"No one was more adept at making science fun and interesting than Richard Feynman," Gates said in a statement announcing that the lectures are now available for free. "More than 20 years after first seeing them, these are still some of the best science lectures I've heard. Feynman worked hard during his life to popularize science, so I'm sure he'd be thrilled that now anyone, anywhere in the world, can just click a button and experience his lectures."

Well, almost anyone. This being Microsoft, you have to install its Silverlight plug-in to view the lectures.

Seeing as though Gates has so much money available to do such things, it is a pity that he can't build a time machine and go back and have the Beeb film Feynman's December 1959 lecture at an American Physical Society meeting hosted by Caltech (where Feynman was working at the time) called There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.

This lecture has been credited by some (and discredited by others) as being the stimulus that started people thinking about nanotechnology. You can read a transcript of that lecture here. There is apparently a video of a follow-on lecture that Feynman gave, called Infinitesimal Machinery. Maybe Bill G can find and buy that, too. ®

Update: This story has been editing to show that you don't need Internet Explorer to view the lectures. You can use Silverlight from inside other browsers.

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