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Princeton, 1945: cosmic rays and 'Mesic' Atoms. WY Chang


John Wheeler Scientist
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How much can you build out of the very simplest building particle, just electrons? You can have a positive electron and a negative electron going around each other, on this picture I was talking about a moment ago. It's an electron that goes forward in time and turns around, comes backward in time, and these two, before they get up there, have a corkscrew. But any rate, not only can you have one positive and one negative electron; you can have two positives, two negatives, and one positive, and more and more. I call these polyelectrons. So far, the most anybody has been able to go in making these things is two positrons and two electrons together. A short lived object, but it lives long enough so that it can be compared sensibly with a molecule. And I call these things polyelectrons as a way to give a shorthand description of what we're talking about. Fun objects, they don't prove anything very much except that if you compare your predictions with experiment, you can say, well, I must know enough to predict.

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: 1 minute, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008