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Common Application: A Historical Figure, Richard Feynman

AbhijeetS 4 / 6  
Dec 24, 2009   #1
This is the essay I wrote for the common app topic about a historical figure, Richard Feynman and his influence on me. It's currently 600 words, so it needs to be trimmed a fair amount. Also what are your opinions on the poem at the end? Brutal commentary welcome.

The personality of the famous physicist Richard Feynman has made a great impact on me. As I watched his interviews and read his books, the sheer force of his persona made me feel as though he had reached across space-time, through the barrier of death and was speaking directly to me.

One of Feynman's most interesting ideas what he called the Freshman Test: he believed for any topic to be considered properly understood it needed to be explainable to a college freshman. Feynman, as a scientist and teacher, was renowned for his ability to see complex equations and theorems and by way of analogy simplify them into something comprehensible, even to those lacking a formal background in the subject. After watching his brilliant lecture on the connection between spin and statistics, I was so intrigued by this idea I decided to try it for myself. I took every topic that I had learned in physics and tried to explain each one to my little brother. The result surprised even me. As I explained the laws to my brother, I began to see them slowly transform from a set of strange and forbidding symbols to something vastly more elegant. One incident stands out vividly in my mind: when I tried to explain Gauss' law for magnetic fields to my brother. I still remember laughing aloud as I slowly came realized that at its core, the law simply stated that a loop has no end. I learned to appreciate not just how useful the laws were at explaining phenomena but also the brilliance of the thought that went into them.

Another of Feynman's distinguishing characteristics was his attitude towards scientific investigation. He was committed to applying the the rigorous standards of the scientific method not just to his field of work, but also to other areas and in turn, using it to solve problems. A famous example of this is when Feynman helped uncover the cause of the 1986 Challenger disaster. Although trying to apply the scientific method to one's daily life can sometimes seem a strange thing to do, the rewards are palpable. When my mother came for a routine medical checkup with a report that her sodium level still slightly above high, she decided to adjust her diet. But despite sticking to her diet for a few weeks, her sodium level remained high. At that point I realized that since the sodium couldn't be coming from her food, it had to be coming from the only other thing she ingested: water. After investigating further, I learned that our water softener worked by replacing the calcium in the water with sodium, making it suitable for washing, but inadvertently driving up the sodium levels.

But perhaps Feynman's most powerful quality was his appreciation of beauty of nature. This aspect of his personality spurred me to learn and understand the universe, and by extension the principles which we use to study it. From the graceful waltz of the stars to the incomprehensible chaos of the sub-atomic world, studying science has opened me up to the profound and awesome nature of this beautiful cosmos in which we reside. And because it is so easy to get lost in the deluge of problem sets and exams, it never ceases to amaze me how far humanity has come in understanding the world around us. Perhaps Feynman expressed this sentiment best in his poem the "Value of Science:"

...Atoms with consciousness; matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea...
wonders at wondering... I...
a universe of atoms...
an atom in the universe.
groovy_newborn 1 / 1  
Dec 26, 2009   #2
as far as i know, 600 words commonapp essay is OK.

her sodium level still slightly above high--maybe you mean slightly above the limit?

I slowly came realized that at its very base--came and realized do not go together, came to realize may be more appropriate
Masterus 2 / 5  
Dec 26, 2009   #3
Remember, that introductions and conclusions are the greatest way to create an impression for an admissions officer. I think the beginning needs a sentence that just pulls the reader in; currently the first sentence is too lackluster; "The personality of the famous physicist Richard Feynman has made a great impact on me."

Wherever you used perhaps, I suggest removing that word. It is usually unnecessary and can create a pompous tone-if you heard someone say perhaps in many of his sentence, you would think he is arrogant.

I don't think ending with a poem is the best idea. The concluding sentence should end the essay by reflecting on what you have learned or what you hope to learn. In other words, it is a time for you to make a personal statement that will make the reader remember who you are. Tell us what you have learned, or what his influence is in your words, not Feynman's.
codelieb - / 1  
Dec 27, 2009   #4
Gauss's law for magnetism can be put in many ways: "the divergence of the magnetic field is everywhere zero," "the total flux of the magnetic field through any closed surface is always zero," "magnetic fields can circulate around a point but they can never diverge from a point," "there are no magnetic charges," "magnetic field lines are always closed loops," "there are no magnetic monopoles," etc. In any case, Gauss's law is a statement about the properties of (all) magnetic fields, and not a statement about the properties of "loops," so it is not true that "at its core, [Gauss's law for magnetism] simply stated that a loop has no end."

Mike Gottlieb
Editor, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Definitive Edition

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