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Matthew Sands

For some forty years Richard P. Feynman focussed his curiosity on the mysterious workings of the physical world, and bent his intellect to searching out the order in its chaos. Now, he has given two years of his ability and his energy to his Lectures on Physics for beginning students. For them he has distilled the essence of his knowledge, and has created in terms they can hope to grasp a picture of the physicist’s universe. To his lectures he has brought the brilliance and clarity of his thought, the originality and vitality of his approach, and the contagious enthusiasm of his delivery. It was a joy to behold.

The first year’s lectures formed the basis for the first volume of this set of books. We have tried in this the second volume to make some kind of a record of a part of the second year’s lectures—which were given to the sophomore class during the 1962–1963 academic year. The rest of the second year’s lectures will make up Volume III.

Of the second year of lectures, the first two-thirds were devoted to a fairly complete treatment of the physics of electricity and magnetism. Its presentation was intended to serve a dual purpose. We hoped, first, to give the students a complete view of one of the great chapters of physics—from the early gropings of Franklin, through the great synthesis of Maxwell, on to the Lorentz electron theory of material properties, and ending with the still unsolved dilemmas of the electromagnetic self-energy. And we hoped, second, by introducing at the outset the calculus of vector fields, to give a solid introduction to the mathematics of field theories. To emphasize the general utility of the mathematical methods, related subjects from other parts of physics were sometimes analyzed together with their electric counterparts. We continually tried to drive home the generality of the mathematics. (“The same equations have the same solutions.”) And we emphasized this point by the kinds of exercises and examinations we gave with the course.

Following the electromagnetism there are two chapters each on elasticity and fluid flow. In the first chapter of each pair, the elementary and practical aspects are treated. The second chapter on each subject attempts to give an overview of the whole complex range of phenomena which the subject can lead to. These four chapters can well be omitted without serious loss, since they are not at all a necessary preparation for Volume III.

The last quarter, approximately, of the second year was dedicated to an introduction to quantum mechanics. This material has been put into the third volume.

In this record of the Feynman Lectures we wished to do more than provide a transcription of what was said. We hoped to make the written version as clear an exposition as possible of the ideas on which the original lectures were based. For some of the lectures this could be done by making only minor adjustments of the wording in the original transcript. For others of the lectures a major reworking and rearrangement of the material was required. Sometimes we felt we should add some new material to improve the clarity or balance of the presentation. Throughout the process we benefitted from the continual help and advice of Professor Feynman.

The translation of over 1,000,000 spoken words into a coherent text on a tight schedule is a formidable task, particularly when it is accompanied by the other onerous burdens which come with the introduction of a new course—preparing for recitation sections, and meeting students, designing exercises and examinations, and grading them, and so on. Many hands—and heads—were involved. In some instances we have, I believe, been able to render a faithful image—or a tenderly retouched portrait—of the original Feynman. In other instances we have fallen far short of this ideal. Our successes are owed to all those who helped. The failures, we regret.

As explained in detail in the Foreword to Volume I, these lectures were but one aspect of a program initiated and supervised by the Physics Course Revision Committee (R. B. Leighton, Chairman, H. V. Neher, and M. Sands) at the California Institute of Technology, and supported financially by the Ford Foundation. In addition, the following people helped with one aspect or another of the preparation of textual material for this second volume: T. K. Caughey, M. L. Clayton, J. B. Curcio, J. B. Hartle, T. W. H. Harvey, M. H. Israel, W. J. Karzas, R. W. Kavanagh, R. B. Leighton, J. Mathews, M. S. Plesset, F. L. Warren, W. Whaling, C. H. Wilts, and B. Zimmerman. Others contributed indirectly through their work on the course: J. Blue, G. F. Chapline, M. J. Clauser, R. Dolen, H. H. Hill, and A. M. Title. Professor Gerry Neugebauer contributed in all aspects of our task with a diligence and devotion far beyond the dictates of duty. The story of physics you find here would, however, not have been, except for the extraordinary ability and industry of Richard P. Feynman.

Matthew Sands
March, 1964
(Photograph by Francis Bello © Estate of Francis Bello/Scence Photo Library)