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That Xenon and Iodine Business


The reactor project
John Wheeler Scientist
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Well, Eugene Wigner had been closer to the design of reactors, how far apart the uranium rods should be put, than I was. So he would have been a logical person to be advisor to Du Pont. But he resisted the idea that any business organization should build this reactor. To him, that meant a give-away. The idea that a company could go into a business with proper motives was unbelievable. Of course, in the end, Du Pont got a fee, of $1.00, for running the project. But Eugene always referred to the people as the Du Ponts, every time. So, I think that Arthur Compton felt that I could at least get along with- knew about these things, so he assigned me, in the beginning, as a liaison with Du Pont. And after I'd been with Du Pont as liaison for maybe six months, then Du Pont said- you'd better join our staff, we'll take you onto the payroll at the same rate as before. But then you can move your family to Wilmington. Which I did. And then, as they- I would take once a month the train to go from Wilmington to the state of Washington, and once a week to go from Wilmington to Chicago. To make the project go, I think we were very fortunate to have them. In the other room there I have a stack of notes this big. The day-to-day notes made by Crawford Greenewalt, the Du Pont Head of the Work, of the decisions that had to be made, the people he talked to, and the considerations, the progress of the work. As they said, we have to keep careful records because if anything goes wrong, the suits- the law suits will never stop.

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, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008