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.


Discussing and formulating theories


'Gravitation and Inertia'
John Wheeler Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

One colleague, who has my respect, Engelbert Schücking, wrote a review recently of the book of Ciufolini and mine of gravitation and inertia, and he said "If they believe," referring to Ciufolini and me, "if they believe that mass there governs inertia here, let them try to prove it. Let them try to move the stars around and see what happens" - as if it was nonsense. But this idea that mass there governs inertia here has a very close bearing on an experiment that's now being prepared, it's taken twenty one years so far to prepare it and a couple more years before it's ready for launch in a space platform. For instance, Everitt at Stanford University was the person who initiated the project. The idea is to check whether mass there governs inertia here. If the whole universe started turning, then we wouldn't recognize it was turning because our inertial frame would go along with it and we would think it wasn't turning. But suppose that part of the universe turns, and we have a part right under our feet right now, it's the Earth itself spinning, and that must contribute to inertia, and since it's turning it must drag with it a little bit the inertial frame of reference. But it's a tiny effect and to observe it is not easy, and for instance Everitt was to have a gyroscope spinning in orbit going round, staying near the Earth, and therefore able to respond to the Earth, and that gyroscope should not keep pointing always to the same point in the distant universe because the Earth is part of the universe and the Earth is turning and so the frame of reference ought to turn slowly; therefore the gyroscope ought to turn slowly, a tiny amount, but enough to be detected with the sensitive instruments he's been devising. And I would say one of the great things about the Stanford enterprise is this; that it's the developing instrumentation, methods of measurement which will have their pay-off in time to come in other fields of endeavor. But at least there's a definite possibility of checking. So when I see Schücking on Friday afternoon, I'm going to tell him this is my response, Francis Everitt's response to his challenge to get something and make it move. The Earth is free and it's moving.

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, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008