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PhenomeNOMS: Richard Feynman

richard feynman

PhenomeNOMS: Richard Feynman
By Erin Parr

Welcome to the tenth edition of PhenomeNOMS, a look at famous geeks and the food that has either inspired them, or is inspired by them. This week features Richard Feynman, a theoretical physicist most widely known for his work in quantum mechanics and his eccentric personality.

Feynman, born in 1918 in New York, started out learning math and science early. By the end of his grade school years, he had taught himself advanced algebra, analytic geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. Richard later attended M.I.T., where he started his love affair with physics. Feynman graduated from M.I.T. in 1939, after having taken every physics course offered at the university, and went on to received his PhD from Princeton in 1942. While at Princeton, Feynman was encouraged to work on the Manhattan Project, a military project to develop the atomic bomb at Los Alamos with Dr. Oppenheimer. While Feynman was not one of the key players in its development, he was present during bomb testing and assisted in creating calculations for fission bombs and nuclear reactors. During this time, famous physicist Niels Bohr, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922) and Feynman would also engage in discussions about physics and theory. Little did he know that later on he would be rubbing elbows with such scientific greats as Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel. Feynman later on discussed his involvement in the Manhattan Project with regret, stating his only reason to get involved was the threat of Germany developing weaponry before the United States, he fell into a depression after the destruction of Hiroshima.

Known for being direct, quick-witted, and having a unnatural obsession with Tuvan throat singing – Feynman’s likeness and fun personality has been featured in multiple stage and screen programs. He was also recently the subject of a graphic novel simply called “Feynman.” Richard has been known to take great care in explaining even the most complicated subjects in ways people, such as his students, could understand, and wanted to make physics accessible to everyone. He took great joy in coming up with alternative methods of teaching and outright despised regular teaching methods, such as memorizing for standardized tests, and much preferred “clear thinking and clear presentation” as the foundation for his personal teaching methods. Feynman later went on to win the Nobel Prize in quantum electrodynamics in 1965.

Richard Feynman played an important part in the investigation of what happened with the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. Feynman was able to discover that the O-rings used on the shuttle were not able to stand up to the cold weather and the massive pressure and temperature changes due to takeoff. Feynman later wrote about his experience on the investigative team, exposing NASA for hiding the reality that there’s a high chance, about 1 in 200, that there could be a catastrophic failure on the flight, in order to attract passenger and teacher Christa McAuliffe to the flight.

Sadly, on February 15th, 1988 – Richard Feynman died after battling with two forms of rare cancer, leaving behind a legacy of information. Feynman’s lectures on physics are still popular amongst college physics students and professors alike. Like many other scientists, Feynman has his own thoughts on food and nutrition. Today’s recipe is inspired by part by Dr. Feynman’s love for simplicity when it comes to teaching complex ideas, plus adding variables. I call them Feynman Bars, and they’re ridiculously easy, ridiculously customizable, and ridiculously good blondie/cookie bars.

Feynman Bars

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
1 cup of flour

½ cup of any of the following, or a combination thereof:
Chocolate chips
White chocolate chips
Peanut butter chips
Butterscotch chips
Almonds, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, or any other nut
Dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries
Peanut butter, nutella, biscoff spread, pumpkin puree
You can also sub some or all of the vanilla for another extract such as almond or butter. A pinch of cinnamon or apple/pumpkin pie spice may be added, as well. Get creative!


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8×8 pan.
Melt the stick of butter in a microwave safe bowl. When the butter is melted, add the sugar and stir until combined. Add the vanilla and egg and stir until well combined. Lastly, add your salt, flour, and any/all of your variables.* Stir until just combined and spread in the 8×8 pan.
Cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is set and the edges have browned. Let cool completely and slice into bars. Now you have delicious, super simple, super tasty Feynman Bars!

Some of my favorite combinations:
Chocolate chips, pinch of cinnamon, sub ½ vanilla for almond extract
White chocolate chips, cashews and cranberries
Peanut butter and chocolate chips
Pumpkin puree (about 1/3 cup) with pumpkin spice
Be creative!

*Note, while still very tasty, adding wet ingredients (peanut butter, pumpkin puree, etc.) will change the texture of the bars slightly and may take additional time to bake.