Terry M. Christensen

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
Oregon State University

2007 to 2008
Dissertation Research Fellow

John Archibald Wheeler: A Study in the Pedagogy, Philosophy, and Politics of 20th Century Physics

John Archibald Wheeler (1911– 2008), popularly known for his coining of the term “black hole” and for his collaboration with Niels Bohr in explicating the theoretical basis for the general mechanism of nuclear fission in 1939, made significant contributions to the areas of nuclear and particle physics, general relativity and cosmology, and information theory and quantum mechanics. Yet perhaps the most enduring legacy of John Wheeler lies in his work as a mentor. His former students include some of the most highly regarded physicists of the 20th century, including Richard Feynman, Charles Misner, David Hill, Kip Thorne and Jacob Bekenstein. The focus of this research project is the practical exercise of mentorship and leadership through the processes of apprenticeship, collaboration, and what may be called “chains of wisdom,” with John Archibald Wheeler’s career and influence in the construction of 20th-century American theoretical physics at the project’s center. In the Philadelphia area I will use two collections, the John A. Wheeler Papers at the American Philosophical Society and materials at Princeton University, where Wheeler spent the bulk of his teaching and research career. Terry's report on his work as a PACHS Fellow is here.