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The Big Crunch: John Wheeler

We read an interesting article about fact-checking – something we’re obviously rather invested in here — in last week’s New Yorker. So we decided to see what we had to say about John Wheeler, the physicist who worked on the Manhattan project and taught Richard Feynman at Princeton. Lo and behold, it turns out that Wheeler’s dad, Dr. Joseph Lewis Wheeler, was at one time the head of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore (both Dr. and Mrs. Wheeler were librarians, in fact). That’s pretty cool.

After “minor” projects such as working on the design and construction of the H-bomb, Wheeler had a few tricks up left up his sleeve.

In 1939, J. Robert Oppenheimer described the theoretical effects of the curvature of space, when thermonuclear reactions cease to function in stars and gravitational forces cause their collapse. Wheeler carried out his own investigations into this phenomenon and, in 1967, coined the term “black hole.” Expanding upon this concept even further, he rationalized that the whole universe might be subject to what he called the Big Crunch. As the universe contracts upon itself to super-dense dimensions, it would cause an explosion similar to that of the big bang, creating a totally new universe. As part of this research, Wheeler has developed the concept of “superspace,” a highly complex mathematical construct that may be all that remains of the universe after the Big Crunch. His ideas on the Big Crunch and superspace have continued to evolve over time, resulting in the better understanding of black holes and imaginative theoretical constructs such as “wormholes,” which deal with holes in space containing electrical forces.

Wheeler died last April at the age of 96.

Source: “John Archibald Wheeler.” Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present. Online. Gale Group, 2008.

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Posted on: February 19, 2009, 3:25 pm Category: Factoids Tagged with: ,

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