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The new research site at Princeton. Fire in the Rabbit building


The Matterhorn Gang
John Wheeler Scientist
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Well, back and forth it went until it ended up in a written proposal which could be sent by Los Alamos to the Princeton University administration. Naturally, the administration, in this case, Shenstone, the chairman of the department in the absence of Symth, wanted to check with Oppenheimer, who by now was Director of the nearby Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. And Oppenheimer was favorable. This is quite something considering the fact that he had been opposed to the H-bomb effort. But I think it meant something to him to have something like this nearby where he could keep touch with it. His arguments were a bit odd to my mind. H-bomb couldn't be done, or if it could be done it would be too heavy to be delivered by a plane, or if it weren't too heavy, it would be too dangerous to deliver. But the very first point that had to be overcome was his point it couldn't be done. We had to give a plausible scenario. And that meant calculating the course of an explosion of a hypothetical H-bomb, calculating the course of explosion all the way through so one could see the flame propagating and the energy being liberated. That's what we set out to do. Fortunately, we had you, Ken, and John Toll, Louis Henyey, from the University of California, Larry Wilets from the University of Washington. We had a total of around twenty. I, every once in a while, get out the picture of the Matterhorn Gang. We had called it Matterhorn at the suggestion of Lyman Spitzer, who felt the word was symbolic of the kind of climb that we were going to have to make. And in keeping with that, one of our members brought along a big coil of rope, so we, in making the photograph, to symbolize the climbing we were going to have to do. We were fortunate to have a place to do our work, which belonged to the university but was pretty well separated from anything that might get tangled up with security work.

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, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008