Seamus Blackley, the co-creator of the Xbox, is on a new mission. And this one takes him back to the days of his first love, theoretical physics. Blackley has started a petition to have the 1974 Dodge van of Nobel-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Blackley is a video game designer and physicist, and he combined those skills in creating more realistic video games. He feels a debt to Feynman because he inspired so many physicists, including Blackley.
“Because someone has to do it,” Blackley (who is speaking at our GamesBeat 2015 conference next week) said in an email. “Feynman inspired my whole generation of scientists and plenty before and after that.”
Feynman worked on the atomic bomb, taught physics, pioneered the field of nanotechnology, and even investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, and he developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions that describe the behavior of subatomic particles. That later became known as the Feynman diagram, and that’s what is painted all over the Feynman van.
“He was also an incredibly approachable, warm, and hilarious human being, whose crazy adventures and stories humanized math and physics, and inspired several generations of young people to pursue science as a career,” Blackley wrote in his petition.
The van, Blackley wrote, “has served as a continuing reminder of the unique genius and invaluable contributions of a great American mind. This vehicle is a rare example of an object that, at a glance, captures the spirit of a great scientist, that can inspire visitors to learn about the person and the story behind it, and that does all of this in a uniquely American and whimsical way.”
The petition urges the director of the Smithsonian Institution and President Obama to accept “Feynman’s Van” into the Smithsonian Institution’s collection so it may continue to inspire the next generation of scientific pioneers.
Feynman and his wife, Gweneth Howarth, bought the van in 1975. They had it painted with the symbols that Feynman had invented. Feynman died in 1988 at the age of 69.
“My dad was pretty low-key about himself,” Michelle Feynman, told Symmetry magazine. “I think decorating the van was more to celebrate the diagrams than to celebrate himself.”
They traveled in the van to Canada, Mexico, and lots of camp sites around the country. Eventually, film producer Ralph Leighton, Feynman’s one-time drumming partner, bought the van for $1 from Gweneth Feynman and put it into storage.
Blackley found out about the van from Michael Shermer, a Pasadena, Calif., resident. He didn’t buy th evan, but Blackley began working on restoring it in 2012. With help from Leighton, Shermer, and designer Edward Tufte, Blackley had the van registered as a historic vehicle.
“Since I restore old stuff, and am a fan of Feynman, it had to be done,” Blackley said.
He had the van restored using specialists in Los Angeles. Blackley showed the restored work to Michelle Feynman, who viewed it with her two children. And this week, the van appeared on the television show The Big Bang Theory and was used in a party trip scene.
More than 350 people have signed the petition.