07 May 2013

Feynman: His life and the Challenger conspiracy

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

Broadcast: 12 May, 8pm on BBC 2
The life and work of iconic US physicist Dr Richard Feynman will be portrayed in both a factual drama and documentary, produced by The Open University in partnership with the BBC.

In the factual drama, The Challenger, William Hurt plays Richard Feynman, who was instrumental in exposing the truth behind the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, and a presidential commission was immediately formed to explore what went wrong. Richard Feynman, who had won the Nobel Prize for his breakthroughs in quantum physics, was an independent investigator who applied his scientific knowledge to investigate the disaster. His work helped to make the US space programme safer.

Dr Ivan Horrocks, Senior Lecturer in Technology Management and Principal Academic Consultant said: “Feynman’s role in the investigation of the Challenger disaster is a fascinating story of dogged determination, politics and intrigue. But the factual drama also illustrates how important it is for people to be able to speak out when they suspect wrongdoing. And the subsequent investigation highlighted the value of independent regulation, transparency and openness in guarding against the failings that lead to such disasters. In the light of the banking crisis, doping in sport or the horsemeat debacle, these are lessons that remain as important today as they were then.”

The documentary, The Fantastic Mr Feynman, will tell Richard Feynman’s life story, using extensive archive footage. Richard’s father instilled his thirst for knowledge and by the age of 15, he had taught himself trigonometry, advanced algebra, analytic geometry and calculus. This drive to question things and learn for himself set him apart. He studied every physics course on offer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the quest to receive his PhD. His theories of quantum electrodynamics revolutionised the field of physics. Although he was honoured with a Nobel Prize, he hated the award. He famously said: “The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out.”

Outside of work he played the bongos, and even composed a ballet based on bongo music. He died in 1988 of a rare form of cancer.

Dr Tony Nixon, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems, said: “Richard Feynman loved science and exploring. His work resonated beyond physics, including forensic engineering, technology management and ethics. In the programme, some of today’s leading scientists will share how his legacy lives on and how he inspired them.”

The Challenger, first broadcast on 18 March, is due to be repeated on 12 May 2013, 8pm on BBC2. The documentary, The Fantastic Mr Fenynman, will be broadcast straight after at 9:30pm.

Editor’s Notes
Programme credits: The Challenger was made in partnership with the BBC and the Science Channel.
Executive Producers for the BBC are Mark Hedgecoe and Cassian Harrison.
Head of Broadcast Commissioning for The Open University is Dr Caroline Ogilvie; Academic Consultants are Dr Ivan Horrocks, Senior Lecturer in Technology Management (The Challenger) and Dr Tony Nixon, Senior Lecturer in Information Systems and Robert Lambourne, Professor of Educational Physics (The Fantastic Mr Feynman).
The Media Fellow is Bernie Clark.

To continue the learning journey with The Open University, visit OpenLearn (links right) for an interactive quiz to test your reactions to a number of difficult scenarios in the world of technology management; read blogs from academic experts; and access courses and free extracts.

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