John Wheeler is Dead

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i-e5518b1f4414a63d61010d5cd36209a0-wheeler.jpgJohn Wheeler may have been one of the few living individuals who actually worked with Einstein, until his death at the age of 96 two days ago. He is famous for his work on the Unified Field Theory (which did not come to fruition), the Harrison-Wheeler equation which has to do with high-density nuclear matter inside of very dense (neutron) stars, and for coining the term “black hole.”Well, he did not really coin the term. It is said that he was giving a talk on the phenomenon, and during the talk a student called out “black hole” as a suggested name for the phenomenon, and it stuck.The New York Times has a piece on Wheeler as does Scientific American. From the Times piece:

Dr. Wheeler was a young, impressionable professor in 1939 when Bohr, the Danish physicist and his mentor, arrived in the United States aboard a ship from Denmark and confided to him that German scientists had succeeded in splitting uranium atoms. Within a few weeks, he and Bohr had sketched out a theory of how nuclear fission worked. Bohr had intended to spend the time arguing with Einstein about quantum theory, but “he spent more time talking to me than to Einstein,” Dr. Wheeler later recalled.As a professor at Princeton and then at the University of Texas in Austin, Dr. Wheeler set the agenda for generations of theoretical physicists, using metaphor as effectively as calculus to capture the imaginations of his students and colleagues and to pose questions that would send them, minds blazing, to the barricades to confront nature.Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of Dr. Wheeler, “For me, he was the last Titan, the only physics superhero still standing.”Under his leadership, Princeton became the leading American center of research into Einsteinian gravity, known as the general theory of relativity — a field that had been moribund because of its remoteness from laboratory experiment.

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2 thoughts on “John Wheeler is Dead

  1. I remember learning special relativity from a textbook by Wheeler. It was different to the normal undergraduate approach to relativity and it was the first example I encountered of “c=1” all the way through. (I later learned the mathematical parody of pi = 1.) The book was a great read, especially considering it was a physics textbook and I actually had the feeling I could intuitively understand special relativity. Remarkable book.I was amazed when I found out that he was the same Wheeler who was Feynman’s supervisor and that he worked with Einstein and Bohr. What a hero.But as for the last titan, isn’t Gell-Mann still alive?

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