Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates believes that if he had been able to watch physicist Richard Feynman lecture on physics in 1964 his life might have played out differently.
Mr. Gates, of course, is legendary as a Harvard University dropout who went on to create the world’s most successful software firm. He has told associates that if had watched the lectures earlier in his life he might have become a physicist instead of a software entrepreneur.
However, Mr. Gates, who is also well known for his sharp and varied intellectual interests and his philanthropic commitment to education, said this week that he had purchased the rights to videos of seven lectures that Dr. Feynman gave at Cornell University called “The Character of Physical Law,” in an effort to make them broadly available via the Internet.
announced on Wednesday that Mr. Gates, who purchased the rights to the videos privately from the Feynman estate, BBC and from Cornell University, in cooperation with Curtis Wong, a Microsoft researcher, has created a Web site that is intended to enhance the videos by annotating them with related digital content.
The name “Tuva” was chosen in reference to Dr. Feynman’s decade long — and ultimately unsuccessful — effort to reach the tiny Russian republic of Tuva, which is located in Asia, toward the end of his life.
Mr. Gates said that he had stumbled upon the film version of the lectures a number of years ago, watched them with a friend using a traditional film projector, and “fell in love” with them. The lectures are not the first acquisition of this kind that the software billionaire, has made. In 1994 he acquired the Codex Leicester, a collection of the written work of Leonardo da Vinci, for $30.8 million in an auction. He did not disclose the amount he spent to gain clear title to the Feynman lectures.
“I do think that making science cool to people when they’re young and therefore getting more people to go into it in an in-depth way, I think that’s very important right now,” Mr. Gates said.
The Tuva Web site will be expanded with additional Feynman lectures in the future, Mr. Gates said. When it is completed it will offer searchable transcripts from the lectures as well as commentary from well-known physicists. The site also offers individual viewers the ability to annotate and take notes. Currently, the first lecture has an “extras” features on the right side of the Web page which includes interactive animations and other components.
Mr. Gates said that he remained fascinated with the lectures, which are intended for a freshman college audience, but which he said were within the grasp of his ten-year-old son. He noted that he had recently watched them again while he was helping Mr. Wong put up the Tuva Web site.
“I couldn’t help myself, I watched them one more time,” he said.