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Witnessing the explosion. Edward Teller's seismograph


November 1, 1952: the Mike Test. The Eniwetok Atoll
John Wheeler Scientist
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November 1st, 1952, was scheduled for the Mike Test. Unfortunately, I was the only one in our group who got the OK to see the shot. At such a shot in the Pacific, typically ten to twenty thousand people present. People making measurements, safety people, people setting up the devices, people recording every detail of pressure, temperature, radioactivity. I understand that the British were shocked at how big the population was at such shots, so they tried to cut down the people at their own shot to one thousand, but it didn't work, they ended up with just as many. The device that was being tested could hardly be called a deliverable bomb. 60 tons of equipment. But it was a proof of principle, I would say. It was located on one of the little islands, the Eniwetok Atoll, like most coral atolls, is a cluster of islands in the form of a rainbow or a circle. It had been occupied by the Japanese during the war, and they had toughened their military people by having them go round the islands, swim from one to the next, to the next. I didn't think I would want to do that myself after I flew over the water in a helicopter and saw all the sharks down below. But there were coconut logs there which the Japanese had piled up on the bank to shelter them against fire at the time this was taken over, captured by American Marines.

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, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008