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John von Neumann (Part 1): Martin Kruskal


1944: meeting with Niels Bohr after Bohr's talk with Roosevelt
John Wheeler Scientist
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We met on the sidewalks of New York -- of Washington, rather -- I can't recall just how we knew where we'd meet. But he was with his son, Aage, who had gone with him to Los Alamos. And he told me about his meeting with Roosevelt. "How can such a man as I," he said, "talk to the leader of the greatest nation in the world at a time of the greatest war in the history of the world." But he said "I simply put it to him, as man to man, how could we deal with this problem of nuclear weapons except through openness." And Roosevelt was evidently much affected by that, because at the time of his death he was writing his speech, which he never got to deliver, in which he was proposing exactly the concept of an open world as stated by Benjamin Franklin, where a man could travel anywhere, as if in his own home country.

John Wheeler, one of the world's most influential physicists, is best known for coining the term 'black holes', for his seminal contributions to the theories of quantum gravity and nuclear fission, as well as for his mind-stretching theories and writings on time, space and gravity.

Listeners: Ken Ford

Ken Ford took his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1953 and worked with Wheeler on a number of research projects, including research for the Hydrogen bomb. He was Professor of Physics at the University of California and Director of the American Institute of Physicists. He collaborated with John Wheeler in the writing of Wheeler's autobiography, 'Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics' (1998).

Duration: 1 minute, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008