Microsoft's Project Tuva celebrates Richard Feynman lecture series 50-year anniversary

The famous lecture films now include commentary from MIT physics professor Robert Jaffe

UPDATED/CORRECTED: 04/21: Microsoft acquired the rights to a famed filmed lecture series by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman and posted them online for all to see via its Project Tuva site. The series includes seven lectures by Dr. Feynman speaking at Cornell University in 1964. However, Dr. Feynman taught an even more famous series of lectures as well beginning in 1961, the The Feynman Lectures on Physics taught at Caltech to undergraduates from 1961–64. Happy 50-year anniversary! The Project Tuva site now includes commentary from MIT physics professor Robert Jaffe.

Over the decades, Feynman's lectures have taken on a legendary status. CORRECTED PER NOTE BELOW: The Caltech lectures were also edited and illustrated to become the basis of one of Feynman's most enduring books, The Feynman Lectures on Physics: The Definitive and Extended Edition, first published in 1964 with the latest edition published in 2005.

Feynman Lectures on Microsoft Project Tuvia

Project Tuva uses Silverlight to show the film (left) and notes by MIT's Robert Jaffe (right).

With Microsoft Research hosting a copy anyone willing to download the Silverlight plugin (or Moonlight for Linux) can hold a Feynman party. One bonsu of Project Tuva being built in Silverlight is that viewers do more than just watch the films. You can search them add notes, and now, read the written remarks added by Jaffe.

Feynman made the laws of physics entertaining. The commentary by Jaffe adds another layer of character. For instance, in the first video, just after Feynman is introduced, Jaffe notes:

"If you haven't heard Feynman's voice before, his strong "New Yawk" accent may come as a surprise. When Feynman started doing theoretical physics, it was a pretty esoteric affair, still dominated by Europeans, most, but not all, native German speakers. Dick cultivated a "bad boy" image from the start -- remember his safe-cracking at Los Alamos -- and the more irreverent he was, the stronger his accent became."

Project Tuva was Bill Gates' baby. The story goes, about 20 years ago, Gates went on vacation with a friend in which they decided to spend an evening watching videos from a university catalog: the Feynman series. In his introductory video to the Project Tuva, Gates called the Feynman lectures, "The best science lectures I've ever seen ... He makes physics fun. Some people might laugh at that phrase, but I'm not kidding when I say it." Gates spent time hunting down and acquiring the rights to the videos and by 2009, the Internet made it possible for Gates to post the Feynman lectures where they live today on the Microsoft Research website at http://research.microsoft.com/apps/tools/tuva/

This week the lectures are back in the spotlight. Jaffe explains in one of his comments:

"The laws of physics that Feynman has been describing are just as fresh and powerful as they were in 1964, or indeed decades earlier, when they were first discovered. In contrast a 50-year-old lecture series in biology, chemistry, computer science or the social sciences would be of historical interest only. For better or worse, the laws of physics don't change (no matter how much we may sometimes wish they would). Now, as in Feynman's day, they form the basis of all the other sciences, and Feynman's explanations are as fresh as any lectures in a classroom today."

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