Manhattan Project Scientists: Richard P. Feynman

Black and white identification photo of a man’s face.
Early in his career, Richard Feynman worked at Los Alamos.


Quick Facts
Richard Feynman was a talented physicist in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos and briefly in nuclear safety at Oak Ridge
Place of Birth:
New York, NY
Date of Birth:
May 11, 1918
Place of Death:
Los Angeles, CA
Date of Death:
February 15, 1988
Place of Burial:
Altadena, CA
Cemetery Name:
Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum

As a teenager, Richard Feynman (1918-1988) taught himself trigonometry, advanced algebra, infinite series, differential and integral calculus, and analytic geometry, and at 24 got his PhD in physics at Princeton. While there he was on Robert Wilson’s team, trying to produce enriched uranium electromagnetically using an isotron. When this approach was abandoned in early 1943, Oppenheimer invited the team to join the secret laboratory at Los Alamos. There, Feynman was assigned to the Theoretical Division under Hans Bethe, and became a group leader. With Bethe he developed a formula for calculating the yield of a fission bomb. He also worked with human computers and helped establish a system for using IBM punched cards for computation. He was sent to Oak Ridge for a short time to help the staff there with safety measures. But besides being a gifted physicist, he was well known as an iconoclast and a character in the Los Alamos community – playing bongo drums, mystifying the site guards by sneaking out of the barbed wire fence and then coming back in through the formal gate, and especially picking locks on file cabinets in others’ offices, demonstrating that the security wasn’t very secure. He was present at the Trinity Test, and refused to wear eye protection, relying instead on a windshield. Feynman became good friends with Klaus Fuchs, later to be identified as a spy, and used Fuchs’ car to go to Albuquerque to visit his wife in a tuberculosis sanitorium there.

When the war ended, Feynman left Los Alamos for a professorship at Cornell, and later moved to Caltech. His work in quantum computing and nanotechnology, his “Feynman diagrams” describing the behavior of subatomic particles, his published lectures, and his autobiographical books, “Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman” and “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” contributed to his being considered one of the best-known scientists in the world. He became even better known from receiving the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 and his work on the committee investigating the Challenger disaster. 

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Last updated: August 2, 2023