John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008)

Professor of Physics, Princeton University
Manhattan Project
Project Matterhorn

John Wheeler (1911-2008) was a leading theoretical physicist and Professor of Physics at Princeton from 1938-1976. Wheeler was central to the development of both the atomic and hydrogen bombs. After earning a doctoral degree in Physics from Johns Hopkins University, Wheeler worked closely with Niels Bohr at the University of Copenhagen. Together, they developed the first theory of fission. This landmark research was pivotal to the development of the atomic bomb. In 1942, Wheeler joined the Manhattan Project. He worked under Arthur Compton at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago on nuclear reactors and later served as the lead physicist at the Hanford reactors, which produced Plutonium necessary for the Nagasaki bomb (Fat man).

After the war, Wheeler conducted research at Los Alamos National Laboratory where he served as director for the research group that produced conceptual designs for the first family of hydrogen bombs. At Los Alamos, Wheeler mentored physicist Richard Feynman. In 1951 Wheeler returned to Princeton to help set up Project Matterhorn at Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus. Wheeler worked on “Matterhorn B,” which conducted crucial research that contributed to the creation of the Hydrogen Bomb. On January 6, 1953, Wheeler famously lost a classified hydrogen bomb document on an overnight train from Princeton, NJ to Washington DC.

In the 1970s Wheeler served as a member of the U.S. General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. Wheeler’s later research led to his reputation as the “father of modern general relativity.” He coined the term, "black hole."

To learn more about Wheeler, visit:

"John Wheeler's H-bomb Blues" by Alex Wellerstein. Physics Today, Vol.72, issue 12 2019