Professor Emeritus John A. Wheeler, a noted theoretical physicist who coined the term “black hole,” died on Sunday, April 13 after contracting pneumonia.
Wheeler joined The University of Texas at Austin in 1976, after spending a significant part of his career as professor of physics at Princeton University (1938-1976).
During part of his time at The University of Texas at Austin, he served as director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics. He was instrumental in attracting other notable theoretical physicists to the university, such as Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg.
His seminal contributions to theoretical physics include introducing the S-matrix, an indispensable tool in particle physics, and pioneering the theory of nuclear fission with Niels Bohr and Enrico Fermi. During World War II, Wheeler participated in the development of the atomic bomb under the Manhattan Project.
After the Manhattan Project, Wheeler continued his academic research, introducing the word “wormhole” to describe tunnels in space-time. His work in general relativity included the theory of gravitational collapse, and he coined the term “black hole” in 1967 during a talk at the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies.
He was also a renowned teacher, teaching and advising students throughout his career, and felt that the young minds were the most important. His graduate students from Princeton include Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, Kip Thorne and Hugh Everett, some of the most distinguished physicists of the second half of the 20th century.
Wheeler was awarded the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1997.
He is survived by two daughters, Alison Wheeler Lahnston and Letitia Wheeler Ufford, and a son, James English Wheeler.