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1938: decision to go to Princeton (Part 1)


First collaboration with Edward Teller. Nuclear rotation
John Wheeler Scientist
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I had known Teller for some years, having met him first when I went on the boat train from Copenhagen to London for the October, 1934, London International Conference. And I kept in touch with him after he'd taken a position in Washington at the George Washington University. After I'd come to North Carolina, he was in- Edward Teller was invited to visit the Chapel Hill, Durham, North Carolina area, and give a lecture or two. And that gave opportunity to talk with him again, and we found ourselves trying to understand to what extent the rotation of a nucleus is like the rotation of a molecule. We concluded they are very similar. And we could estimate how far apart the energy levels are in a nucleus associated with different amounts of rotation. It was wonderful encouragement to find that there were indeed energy level separations like that. And nowadays, some remarkable cases of nuclear rotation are found. Somewhere, a nucleus rotates so fast that it changes from being a ball to being like a stick swinging around. But this paper of ours was written primarily by Edward. He has the gift for expression of ideas in simple form. He and I have worked together many times in years past. He's still, he- with a skip of the heart, I see and recognize his footsteps at a distance, because he limps so. As a young man he got off a street car in Budapest- where his home was- too fast, and his foot slid under the wheel of the street car and was damaged so much that he had to have an artificial foot extension.

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, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008