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Under The Microscope

RICHARD FEYNMAN: A LIFE IN SCIENCE, by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin; Penguin, 1998; 301 pp; $24.95

Reviewed by Neville Gardner

Much has been published about the life and work of Richard Feynman, influential scientist and educator. This takes the form of his lectures and anecdotes, as well as numerous looks at his life or science.

Does this book offer anything new? I believe it does, mainly in the way it thoroughly integrates Feynman's life with his science. There were times when I felt bogged down by scientific details, but only momentarily. I enjoyed the approach that follows various strands of Feynman's life or research to their conclusions, rather than keeping to a strict chronological account.

Feynman showed that physics could be fun as well as satisfying, that you didn't need complex jargon to explain the subject, and that you could do science best by thinking outside the square. His approach to science and his way of making it accessible, as well as his actual contributions, endeared him to generations of students and physicists. What the book makes clear is that he is still an influence 20 years after his death. Feynman had genius on his side of course, but as a science educator I take heart that the attitude and enthusiasm of the teacher can play such important roles steering students into and through science.

Dr Neville Gardner is Senior Science Educator at The Science Centre and Manawatu Museum in Palmerston North.