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1938: decision to go to Princeton (Part 2)


1938: decision to go to Princeton (Part 1)
John Wheeler Scientist
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I knew about the Institute for Advanced Study. I knew how it had started, and I knew it was located in Princeton. But it had a tie to Johns Hopkins, my original university, in the concept, even though not in organization. The- Abraham Flexner had been one of the early students at Johns Hopkins and had observed the spirit of research, of a research institution. He later became one of the great teachers in America. But he wrote a book called 'Universities- American, British and European'. He compared and contrasted them and spoke of the need for a research-oriented university. I believe it was Mr Rose, R O S E, associated with the Rockefeller family, who read this book, and since he was counted on by the Rockefellers for advice about where to give money- no, I'm getting it mixed up, that was the Rockefeller Foundation- the person who read the book was associated with the families who gave money to the Institute for Advanced Study. Fuld was one of them. Bamberger and Fuld. Bamberger-Fuld Foundation. They started to negotiate with Johns Hopkins University to locate themselves there. But Johns Hopkins had been hit so badly by the decline of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad stock, that that didn't work out, and they approached Princeton. Princeton welcomed it, and Princeton made space available in several of its buildings to house professors of the new Institute for Advanced Study. So it's always a pleasure to show visitors the Princeton campus office that Einstein had occupied until the Institute for Advanced Study had a building of its own and could move there. A few days ago, I had the pleasure to take part, along with the president of the university and a few other friends, in a dedication of a tablet suggested by one of the Princeton alumni, a tablet to mark the pathway that Einstein used to take in walking from his home to his office. This went through an archway of Walker Hall, on the Princeton campus, and here now we have a little plaque that marks that spot with words to that effect. This young man, he was then a young man, said how great it was to look out of his window in the morning and see Einstein going by, walking to work. I told him yes, and later on, Richard Feynman and I used the same path when we would walk and talk on our way towards the Graduate College, and how we got to one point along the road where we'd say, "Well, that problem expressed in 'such-and-such' language is so complicated, let's translate it into the language of electricity and magnetism." So later we got to call the tower there, in the building, in the corner, Electrodynamics Corner.

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: 4 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008