John Archibald Wheeler

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John Archibald Wheeler, an American theoretical physicist, was the first to explain nuclear fission and fusion. During World War II, he was a key figure in the construction of the first atom bomb, and he later worked on the hydrogen bomb. After finishing his education, this scientific talent became acquainted with Niels Bohr and Gregory Breit, with whom he developed the ‘Breit-Wheeler process’ for converting light into matter. After then, he began a four-decade relationship with Princeton University. He established the S-matrix concept at Princeton, which is still relevant today. During WWII, he was admitted into Project Manhattan due to his skill in nuclear fission. He contributed significantly to the construction of nuclear reactors and the purification of Plutonium. He resumed his academic duties after WWII and was active in a variety of different research projects, including theoretical physics. He was a driving force behind the resurgence of theoretical physics, studying the time-space continuum and attempting to create a geometrical basis for phenomena such as gravity. His work resulted in the creation of the field of ‘Geometrodynamics,’ and he even investigated wormholes and black holes. He was the one who coined the phrase “black hole.” Continue reading to learn more about his life and work.

Childhood and Adolescence

John Archibald Wheeler was born on July 9, 1911, in the city of Jacksonville, Florida, to Joseph Lewis Wheeler and Mabel Archibald Wheeler.

He had three younger siblings, Joseph, Robert, and Mary, and both of his parents worked as librarians.
Wheeler attended a local school in Vermont, where the family lived from 1921 to 1922, and then went on to Ohio’s ‘Rayen High School.’ He subsequently went to ‘Baltimore City College,’ where he received his diploma in 1926.

The state of Maryland provided him with a scholarship at ‘John Hopkins University.’ During the summer of 1930, while working at the ‘National Bureau of Standards,’ he published his first scholarly publication.
He worked on his dissertation thesis under the supervision of physicist Karl Herzfeld and was given a Ph. D. in 1933. His thesis was about the inert gas Helium’s dispersion and absorption.

Career of John Archibald Wheeler

He collaborated with physicists Gregory Breit and Niels Bohr from 1934 to 1935. Wheeler and Breit identified the method by which light can be transformed to matter in 1934, working together. The ‘Breit-Wheeler Process’ was named after its creators and marked the start of the latter’s scientific career.

He subsequently started his first teaching job at the ‘University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,’ a public research university in North Carolina. He was offered a $2300 annual salary as an assistant professor.
Because of his interest in particle physics, he obtained a post as an associate professor at ‘Princeton University’ in 1938. In the same year, he worked with theoretical physicist Edward Teller on a study of the atomic nucleus as a liquid drop.

Following the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939, Archibald teamed up with Niels Bohr to investigate the phenomenon of fission in Uranium in order to better understand the process. They came to the conclusion that the energy was released by unstable isotopes of fissionable materials when they were blasted by neutrons.

Wheeler was a member of the Metallurgical Laboratory, which was in charge of building the nuclear reactor when he was inducted into the ‘Manhattan Project’ in 1942. The results of his research, which he conducted with fellow theoretical physicist, Robert F. Christy, were published in the publication ‘Chain Reaction of Pure Fissionable Materials in Solution.’

He was then hired by ‘DuPont,’ a chemical manufacturing business, to work in the design department, which was in charge of building the nuclear reactor as well as a Plutonium purification facility.
During 1943-44, he collaborated closely with the engineers and had to relocate several times. He even mentioned a technical flaw in the reactor’s design that caused it to shut down.

In 1945, he returned to Princeton to pursue research on elementary particles, particularly the’muon,’ and, in collaboration with Brazilian physicist Jayme Tiomno, he investigated the decay of radioactive substances, coining the term ‘Tiomno Triangle.’
He was then named director of the ‘Cosmic Rays Laboratory,’ which was founded at Princeton in 1948.

Wheeler subsequently went to work for the ‘Los Alamos Laboratory,’ which was in charge of developing the Hydrogen Bomb. He established a section of the ‘Los Alamos Labs’ at Princeton in 1951, through which he engaged students in projects involving nuclear weapons and nuclear energy as a substitute.

Wheeler’s efforts paid off in 1953, when ‘Project Matterhorn B,’ a branch of his Princeton-based ‘Project Matterhorn,’ successfully detonated the first thermonuclear device driven by nuclear fusion.

This prominent theoretical physicist continued his academic career at Princeton, where he began to explore electromagnetic and gravitational force. He developed the term ‘geon’ to characterize a wave that is confined in a field propagated by its own force of attraction, whether gravitational or electromagnetic in nature.

He also played a key role in the revival of Einstein’s general relativity branch of physics. He dubbed the tunnels in the space-time continuum referenced in Einstein’s theory ‘wormholes,’ and concluded that they are unstable after further examination.

He pioneered the discipline of ‘Geometrodynamics,’ which aims to understand the geometrical basis of all space-time events with the ultimate goal of establishing a unified field theory.

From 1962 to 1973, he released a number of publications that detailed his study. During this time, he wrote books such as ‘Geometrodynamics,’ ‘Spacetime Physics,’ ‘Scouting Black Holes,’ and ‘Gravitation.’
To explain the process of gravitational collapse, he invented the phrase “black hole” in 1967.
He retired in 1976 after a nearly four-decade tenure at Princeton.

He worked at the ‘University of Texas’-affiliated ‘Center for Theoretical Physics’ from 1976 to 1986. During his time at the university, he worked on quantum physics experiments.

Major Projects of John Archibald Wheeler

John Archibald was a distinguished scientist who made various contributions to science, but his work in the realm of nuclear fission and fusion reactions is particularly noteworthy. He was a key figure in the development of the first atom bomb and, later, the hydrogen bomb.

Achievements & Awards

Several honors and medals were bestowed to John over his career, including the ‘Albert Einstein Award,’ ‘Enrico Fermi Award,’ and ‘Franklin Medal.’
The President of the United States awarded him the ‘National Medal of Science’ in 1970.
The ‘American Physical Society’ awarded him the ‘Einstein Prize’ in 2003 for his contribution to gravitational physics.

Personal History and Legacy

Wheeler married Janette Hegner on June 10, 1935, after a two-year courtship. Janette was a history student at ‘John Hopkins University’ and later became a teacher at ‘Rye Country Day School.’ The couple is the parents of three children.

Six months after his wife’s death, this prominent scientist died on April 13, 2008 in New Jersey. At the time of his death, he was 96 years old and suffering from pneumonia.

John Archibald Wheeler Net Worth

John is one of the wealthiest physicists and one of the most well-known physicists. According to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider, John Archibald Wheeler has a net worth of $1.5 million.