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The doctrine of limited war


Eugene Wigner, Michael Polanyi
John Wheeler Scientist
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Eugene Wigner had so much nuclear physics. I can recall that when Niels Bohr and I were considering nuclear fission, and what the chances that a vibration in the nucleus would go far enough to go over the potential barrier to fission. Eugene was in the hospital. He'd eaten some bad oysters and had hepatitis. I stopped in to see him and told him what we were thinking about and he said you should look up the paper of -- I'll just remember it in a minute -- Polanyi, Michael Polanyi. Yes. Eugene had worked on the Theory of Molecular Reactions with Polanyi, and Polanyi had a formula for this. Bohr and I could translate that formula into the corresponding formula for nuclear physics. And it made the probability of fission proportional to the number of channels that lead over the barrier. The Channel Analysis of Fission. And that later proved to be a good guide to experimental work in the field of fission physics.

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, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008