Wheeler honored at conference
Princeton NJ -- More than 300 scientists from around the
world gathered at a local conference center March 15-16 to
honor Princeton physicist John Wheeler, who has been an
important force in 20th-century physics and who recently had
his 90th birthday.
The conference, called "Science and Ultimate Reality,"
celebrated Wheeler's drive to address big, overarching
questions in physics, which often begin to merge with
philosophical questions about the origin of matter,
information and the universe.
"In many ways John Wheeler is unique," said Freeman
Dyson, a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study and
one of the presenters at the conference. "The fact is that
he's both a physicist and a philosopher, whereas usually
people choose one or the other."
Sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and the Peter
Gruber Foundation Cosmology Prize, the conference was held
at the Merrill Lynch Conference Center.
Speakers at the gathering addressed the many aspects of
Wheeler's scientific contributions, which have played a part
in many of the key advances in physics over the last
three-quarters century. Working with Neils Bohr in
Copenhagen, Denmark, Wheeler helped formulate a theory of
nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms in radioactive
decay. Wheeler went on to work on both the atomic and
hydrogen bomb projects.
At Princeton, Wheeler delved deeply into and helped
rejuvenate the field of general relativity, which had not
continued to be a subject of intense interest among
physicists since Einstein's original discovery.
"Wheeler's interest in general relativity had a
tremendous influence on the field," said Princeton
astrophysicist Richard Gott, who was a panelist at the
conference. Wheeler coined the term "black hole" to describe
a collapsed star so dense that not even light can
He also has investigated how the inscrutable behavior of
very small particles -- quantum shifts that seem to depend
on the participation of an observer -- can explain the
origin of the universe.
Wheeler joined the Princeton faculty in 1938 and
transferred to emeritus status in 1976.
March 25, 2002
Vol. 91, No. 20
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Calendar of events
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