‘Father of modern general relativity’ John Wheeler is born, July 9, 1911

-July 09, 2017

John Archibald Wheeler, the American theoretical physicist who coined the terms "black hole" and "wormhole," was born on July 9, 1911.

Wheeler, sometimes called the "father of modern general relativity," is largely credited with maintaining the United States government’s interest in general relativity after World War II.

Wheeler’s career was largely focused on mentoring and teaching, which he did at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for three years starting in 1935 and then at Princeton University, from 1938 to 1976. In 1976, he became director of the Center for Theoretical Physics at the University of Texas. After maintaining that position for 10 years, he officially retired from academic work. However, Wheeler returned to Princeton University as a professor emeritus.

Over the course of his career, Wheeler did take breaks from academia to work on government and personal projects. Those projects included:
  • Work on the development of the atomic bomb during the Manhattan Project: Wheeler spent time at the Hanford Site in Washington, where several large nuclear reactors were constructed to produce the element plutonium for atomic bombs.
  • Work with Niels Bohr in explaining the basic principles behind nuclear fission
  • Collaboration with Albert Einstein and attempts to achieve Einstein's vision of a unified field theory
  • Collaboration with Bryce DeWitt for pioneering work in the field of quantum gravity: Together they developed the Wheeler-DeWitt equation or, as it was called, the "wave function of the Universe."

 Albert Einstein, Hideki Yukawa, John Wheeler, and Homi Bhabha. Source: www.princeton.edu

In addition to the terms noted above, Wheeler is also credited with coining the terms "quantum foam" and "it from bit."

After a life full of tremendous accomplishments and influence, Wheeler died on April 13, 2008, of pneumonia in his home near Princeton. He was 96 years of age.

Read more about Wheeler in this obituary from Princeton.


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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on July 9, 2012, and edited on July 9, 2017.


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