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Johns Hopkins: doctorate years, summer jobs and tutoring


Johns Hopkins: engineering and physics
John Wheeler Scientist
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And then there was a surveying transit which my mother's father, my grandfather Archibald, had used in earlier times to survey. And I can recall the test of a surveyor. You go round a circuit and come back and see how closely you close up, within an inch if you can, otherwise more. And when I got to Johns Hopkins, it was at a time when the Depression was as bad as it could be. And I couldn't see any way of getting any work in the areas I was interested in, except in engineering. So I enrolled as an engineer in Electrical Engineering. But we all had our course in Mechanical Drawing, and our course in Surveying, and had to go around the campus of the university and come back and close up, if possible, within one inch. But the terrible thing, in the engineering library where I would go to look up this or that, data on the strength of this or that steel, were the- also the physics journals. And in those days, the early development of quantum physics was taking place, and the great journal of physics was the German journal, 'Zeitschrift für Physik'. Fortunately, in high school, I had fallen under the influence of Konrad Uhlig- U H L I G, who taught German. And he loved to give the feel for the pronunciation of German. "Uberall Verständlichkeit". Well, with that background in German, I could make my way in these journals and see the development of atomic physics, month by month. And I'm afraid at that, I came, in that way, to try to get into the physics seminar. The professor who ran that was Karl Herzfeld. He had been a student of Arnold Sommerfeld in Munich, who in turn had been a student of the great Boltzmann. So, I found myself going to the lectures of Herzfeld. Each one started out with a great review of all the physics and then specialize down to the particular field he was going to be talking about in that course, and go on from there into the details.

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, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008