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Johns Hopkins: engineering and physics


Johns Hopkins University
John Wheeler Scientist
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I think that probably my father having taken the job in Baltimore was, as director of the public library, was partly conditioned by the hope that in this way his children would be able to go to university at home. My dear wife, Janette, who went to the woman's half of Harvard, called Radcliffe, wishes I had gone to Harvard. But I am very happy I went to Johns Hopkins, because it had been, and still kept a lot of that tradition, of being the first research university in America. Daniel Coit Gilman, the president, who set the course of the university, brought together thinkers from around the country to advise on what should be the layout, how should it be set out. Gildersleeve, from England, Henry Rowland, the physicist from New England, and so on, sitting around in a room, day after day, discussing how it should go. And as the idea began to gel of a university which combined the development of new knowledge with the propagation of existing knowledge, as the idea began to gel, the enthusiasm was apparent. And Gilman grabbed the moment and he said, Professor Gildersleeve, if we set up the university along these lines, will you accept an appointment? Gildersleeve said yes. And- And Rowland likewise? And so on. This made the beginning of a great university. And why didn't it stay equally great? The board of trustees knew that the stock was primarily in the stock of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the endowment of the university. And they did not diversify. And when that railroad fell on hard times, the university really was hit.

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: 3 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008