Monday, April 14, 2008

John Wheeler

John Wheeler died yesterday. He was not a physicist's physicist, but, I think, a student's physicist, someone who inspired a couple of generations by his insights, kindness, enthusiasm, and understanding. That is an overlooked role among great scientists.

As an undergraduate I learned a lot from his Spacetime Physics book written with Taylor. Special relativity, especially in its modern formulation, really is the gateway to all of modern physics, and I was fortunate to study with teachers (especially Daniel Finley at UNM) who knew that.

Of course, every graduate student knows about Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, a huge treatise on general relativity that itself has nearly the mass of a small black hole. I studied and studied it, and learned a lot, but never as much as I thought I should. But it looks great on your bookshelf, and it's still there today. Sometimes I even consult it.

We need more like him.

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