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Vermont one-room schoolhouse, skipping grades


Father and Johns Hopkins University scholarship
John Wheeler Scientist
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My parents treated me as anybody else. But I remember overhearing, one night, as I was upstairs in the bedroom area, my father and mother talking about what were they going to do to make sure that my mathematics and other abilities got developed properly. I can't recall whether they were talking about money or school, but I do know that this teacher, Lida Baldwin, came to see my father once, at his job as director of the public library, saying to him that something special should be done. But in later life we moved to Baltimore, and there the Johns Hopkins University was an open invitation. But how to get the money to pay the tuition and other expenses? You'd have to apply for a scholarship. But this particular scholarship, it turned out, could only be awarded if some ward politician gave his OK. And my father took me around to call on this politician, who had, in his below street level apartment, all kinds of gifts around from this and that constituent of his. And my father introduced him and said that this boy was applying for a scholarship. That seemed to be enough to gain approval. I never had the slightest indication or belief that my father ever made any contribution in any other way.

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, 28 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008