I started engineering school in 1976 at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. In the first two years we were taught quite a lot of Physics and Calculus. The Physics courses (4 semesters) were taught using the well know books by Halliday & Resnick (as well as Alonso & Finn).
Sometime in 1976 while at a book store in downtown Sao Paulo city, I came across 3 paperback books with red covers entitled "The Feynman Lectures on Physics." The books had a funny shape as they were much wider than tall. They were all very thick!! I opened Volume III and saw that it was a bilingual version (English & Spanish) of Feynman's book. That explained why the books had that particular shape and size. Each page was divided into two, the left hand side had the text in English and the Spanish translations were on the right hand side. I must have spent a few hours there reading Volume III. Up until that day I had never heard of Richard Feynman.
I was fascinated by the books and in particular by what I had read in Chapter 1 (Quantum Behavior) of Volume III (Quantum Mechanics). This chapter introduced Quantum Behavior using the double-slit experiment. This was much beyond my classical physics knowledge at the time, but the story and the way Feynman described the thought experiments were so interesting and intriguing that I read the whole chapter. Obviously this was much different from anything that I had studied in Physics up until that point. I remember trying to make a connection to some Chemistry that I had taken in High School about atomic orbitals, etc., but I wasn't quite sure what all these things had in common. At the quantum level things like electrons and photons behaved in a very weird and unintuitive way. But at least to my comfort, in Section 1.1 of the first chapter Feynman said that the experiments he was about to describe were absolutely impossible to explain in any classical way, and that they had in them the "heart of quantum mechanics," and in reality the "only mystery." That encouraged me to continue reading...
Hours had passed and I knew that I would love to look at what was in the other books, as I was definitely hooked by Volume III. The books were expensive, as they were imported from the US. But I knew that I had to have them and I would start saving money right away to buy them eventually. Incidentally those three volumes were the only ones available at the book store, and when I went back there a few months later to buy them, to my luck they were still there. I still remember the feeling of happiness that I had, as I would be able to start uncovering a whole new world of phenomena in Physics with Feynman's Lectures. Indeed those 3 books were very influential in my academic life and made Physics my favorite subject in College (followed by Math) and throughout my life.
After graduation I started working in a research institute attached to the University of Sao Paulo in the area of structural analysis, fluid dynamics, etc. A year later I had an offer to join Schlumberger as a Field Engineer in the Oil Field Sector and to work overseas. After a few months training in Venezuela I was assigned to Aberdeen in Scotland where I spent many years as a Field Engineer logging oil wells in the North Sea. "Logging an oil well" means you drop some pretty sophisticated equipment in the well using a cable and you measure many properties of the rocks as a function of the depth. The interpretation of these measurements leads to identifying what type of rock the well traverses, the porosity of the rock, the oil saturation, etc. Many different tools are run in the well to acquire all the information required to evaluate the potential of the well/field in terms of oil production. The Field Engineer understands the physics of each tool, the electronics associated with the tool and the interpretation of the results (geology, rock type, rock properties, fluids in the rock, etc.)
I did this for about 5 years, mostly based in the North Sea. Then I was transferred to Paris, France to work in Seismic Interpretation, and then to Houston, TX to work on what was then a new technology, called "Logging While Drilling" (LWD), where the same devices that were used on the wireline tools were being mounted on the drill collars which are the first few sections of drill pipes just above the drill bit. This way one could do all the measurements of the rock properties while drilling the well. As the drilling rate is slow one could actually send the information to the surface via acoustic pulses through the mud column in the well. This way one could measure the properties of the rock in real time while drilling the well. I came up with an idea of how to measure acoustic properties of the rocks (compressional and shear wave speed measurements) using this LWD technology, and as a result I was transferred to Schlumberger's research center in Ridgefield, CT (Schlumberger-Doll Research or SDR, as it was known by). This was an amazing place. It was known as the "AT&T Bell Labs" of the Oil Industry, full of smart and famous people, mostly Physicists. My job there was to continue to develop my idea by using numerical simulations (solving 3-D PDE's governing elastic wave propagation) as well as checking the predictions with experiments in the laboratory. It was a fun time and things worked out really well to the point that the idea was transferred to engineering for implementation into a commercial service. I came to SDR kind of through the back door. All scientists at the lab had PhD's from top Universities (Caltech, MIT, Stanford, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford, and many other top institutions). I was probably the only scientist there with only an undergraduate degree. But my dream was eventually to go back to school and get a PhD, preferably in Physics.
When I was transferred to SDR the lab director was Prof. Tom Tombrello (on a two-year sabbatical leave from Caltech's Physics Department). The lab had a monthly Colloquium Series where famous people were invited to give talks on interesting subjects, not necessarily related to any of the research activities of the lab. Prof. Tombrello, being from Caltech, brought to the lab on different occasions the Nobel Laureates Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. How lucky I was in being able to listen to both these physicists, and to meet them during a cocktail hour after their talks. That, I will never forget for the rest of my life. Listening to Feynman's talk was a full circle for me, since I first came across his name on a book in 1976, and to actually meet him in person some 10 years later was a dream come true!! What an honor it was!!
To finish the story, I eventually was accepted by Caltech, MIT and Stanford to pursue a PhD. I thought I would have to resign from Schlumberger to pursue this dream of mine. Thankfully, Prof. Tombrello was instrumental in allowing me to attend MIT while still being employed by Schlumberger-Doll Research. I had an advisor at MIT (Prof. M. Nafi Toksoz) and one at Schlumberger (Dr. Robert Burridge). I finished my MS and PhD at MIT in 3 years and continued working at SDR after that.
Feynman's books developed my love for Physics and it continues to be my favorite subject/hobby. From time to time I watch some of the videos in this site at Caltech. The talks he gave at Cornell are absolutely fantastic. Feynman's Lost Lecture is a gem, and it exemplifies the genius that he was. In that lecture he explains how the orbit of a planet around the sun is an ellipse. He demonstrates it in an elementary way. But he cautious the students that "elementary" doesn't mean it will be easy to understand. Elementary means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an "infinite amount of intelligence" !!!!
I'm forever grateful to Feynman for planting the seed that lead to my academic developments and understanding of Physics, and to his friend Prof. Tom Tombrello for his encouragement and for having the vision to allow me to go back to grad school and pursue my dream.
Sergio Kostek, PhD