a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


MetLab, Chicago 1942. Wheeler and Wigner. Reactor coolants


Locating the Du Pont pile. Washingon and the Cascade Mountains
John Wheeler Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I took it as for granted that the pile would operate, the first nuclear reactor, and to get on with the job, I wanted to stay with Du Pont because we were figuring out where to locate the reactor. And consistent with this idea of looking for all the ways things could go wrong, I had looked up a table of the thunderstorm days per year in the United States, because a thunderstorm gave lightning, lightning would possibly shut down the electric power operating the pumps keeping the reactor going. And therefore, I said we ought to cross off Florida, because it has the highest number of thunderstorm days per year in the United States. We had a list of sites and the site in the state of Washington looked the best. It's an amazing thing, this beautiful Columbia River flowing down from the ice fields of British Columbia, flowing south through the state of Washington, and then turning west to the ocean along the border between Washington and Oregon. Ice cold, flowing in desert country. Why desert in the north-west? The answer: the Cascade Mountains between that Columbia River Valley region and the Pacific, and the moist air coming from the Pacific rising up over the mountain, gets cooled and deposits its moisture in the form of snow, so the beautiful Cascade Mountains, and that air, drained of its moisture, going down the other side, getting compressed and being re-heated by compression, to a higher temperature than it started with. That's why you have 100 degrees temperature, 100 degrees fahrenheit temperature, all the time there, in the summer, in the state of Washington.

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: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008