Atoms, Time and Distance.

Notes from Week 1 of reading of the Feynman Lectures (covers Ch.1–5 of Vol.1 of these lectures)

Apurva Joshi
3 min readJul 18, 2021

Hi there! 👋

My name is Apurva Joshi, and I’m an 18-year-old biologist-in-training. I’m driven by uncovering fundamental details in biology — how to optimize the cellular reprogramming process to perfect iPSCs, how to reverse cellular senescence to increase human lifespan, and more. At their most basic, these details are nothing more than atoms and molecules interacting with each other and arranging and rearranging to form biological constructs.

Physics is essentially the study of these atoms and molecules interacting with other. In order to uncover these biological details, I’ve undertaken the journey to understand physics. I’ve decided to start my journey with Volume 1 of Richard Feynman’s Lectures on Physics. In the past week or so, I went through the first 5 chapters as a macro-level introduction to some important concepts in physics. Below are some of my takeaways of each lecture.

Ch 1 Atoms in Motion:

  • The sole test of validity of any idea is experiment.
  • A basic formula for the creation of scientific laws: Experimentation, giving us base qualitative data + imagination to make generalizations = scientific laws (which are not the whole truth, merely an approximation)
  • Absolute zero is not entirely absolute — just the minimum amount of vibration that atoms can have, but not zero. (exception for this is helium)
  • Why do we know that they’re still moving at absolute zero? If they were moving, then we’d know that they have no motion at all, and so we can more accurately discovering their individual position. However, this would contradict the uncertainty principle, which states that we can’t know both a particle’s position or it’s speed at any given moment. Thus, particles are always jiggling to some degree.

Ch 2 Intro to Physics:

  • The goal of modern physics is to see complete nature as different aspects of one set of phenomena
  • Quantum physics is the study of how , at high frequencies, waves behave like particles
  • At extremely small scales (i.e. nano-scale and smaller), particles behave differently than they do at a very large scale.
  • If the way the world works is a game, to ‘understand’ something is to understand the basic rules of the games

Ch3: Connection to other sciences:

(This does not cover the connection to ALL sciences, just the ones I personally found the most interesting from this section)

  • Inorganic chemistry is divided into two categories: physical chemistry (studying the rates of reactions) and quantum chemistry (what’s happening in terms of physical laws)
  • Biology helped physics develop conservation of energy, through observing processes of cell respiration such as the citric acid cycle.

Ch4- conservation of energy:

  • Energy is not created or destroyed, but it CAN enter and leave a system, so from that particular perspective of a system, energy does change.
  • Energy is considered abstract in the sense that it doesn’t explain the reasons for physical phenomena which are represented by formulas.
  • Heat energy is essentially another form of kinetic energy, which can be measured through surroundings getting warmer.

Ch 5 — Time and Distance:

  • I’ve always been curious as to how physicists define time. Prior to these lectures, my personal definition of time has been a measure of events as they happen in a sequence one after another. Feynman’s thinking is that though there isn’t a definition of time per se, we can base a definition of time based on how often some normally repeating event occurs.
  • Distance = speed X time
  • Time uncertainty is related to the wave nature of matter.



Apurva Joshi

Currently conducting independent research in iPSC derivation. Outside of that: 2nd-yr bchm & neuro @ brandeis, alum @ TKS, writer of medium articles