back to article Scientist who named the black hole dies aged 96

Legendary American physicist John Wheeler, who coined the term "black hole", helped build the first generations of US atomic bombs, and worked with some of the most fabled names in 20th century physics, has died. The famous professor passed away from pneumonia at his home in New Jersey, aged 96. Wheeler was described by Max …


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  1. Ishkandar

    "black holes have no hair"

    Please, no more hoary old jokes the begin with "Oh yes, they do....

  2. StopthePropaganda

    The Giants are dying out

    I can only hope there is a new generation of giants the future can stand on the shoulders of.

    Rest in Peace. My grandfather thanks you for saving his @ss from a Japanese land invasion in WWII.

  3. Jim Benn

    Other Discoveries.

    Not to mention 'Wheeler Foam' and his other contributions to Physics. Yup.

    The last of a generation. R.I.P..

  4. Dave

    'last of the physics superheroes'

    I think mr Hawking might be a bit of a physics guru and he's still about

  5. maajka


    Yes, thank you for killing 200 000 innocent people...

  6. Acme Fixer


    Whoop-tee-doo. Another naysayer complains about A-bombs. To put it in perspective, the number of 'innocent' people killed by two A-bombs was small compared to the number who died by conventional weapons dropped over Tokyo, etc. War is hell, so qwitcherbitchin'.

  7. Terence McCarthy

    @StopthePropaganda @StopthePropaganda By maajka

    Instead of the half a million or so Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen trying to stop the war the Japanese started.

    Oh, right....

  8. Ian Michael Gumby


    Seems you forgot that there was a War on and that if the US had to invade the Japanese main island that there would have been many, many , many more civilian casualties, not to mention many more American lives. My Uncle was a 1st Lt. and was assigned to lead a squad in the second wave of landing craft. To this day, he recounts that the day they dropped the bomb, he knelt down and kissed the sand he was standing on. (And he was not alone.)

    Oh there's more, but lets stay on topic.

    While these were the greats, I'm sure that there's another generation behind them thinking up the next big thing. It seems that the advances in Science and Technolgoy are occurring at a faster pace, but by more people...

    If Wheeler was in his 20's today, what do you think he would be working on? Cosmology? Nanotech? Fusion Reactors? I mean there are so many options these days that didn't exist in the 40's and 50's.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: 'last of the physics superheroes'

    "I think mr Hawking might be a bit of a physics guru and he's still about"

    Maybe so, but speaking as an (ex-)physicist I'd hardly describe him as a 'physics superhero' - compared with the likes of Einstein, Wheeler or even Newton, he's something of an also-ran. Were it not for his disability, he'd likely as not be just another Cambridge professor.

  10. Anonymous Coward


    No, thank you, maajka! We'd have like to kill more, but we ran out of atomic bombs. By the time Korea came about, our politicians had turned into chickens. McArthur was right.

  11. ImaGnuber

    Positive contribution to the gene pool

    "The legendary boffin's wife Janette, whom he married in 1935, died last year at the age of 99. They left three children and a total of 41 further descendants, according to the NYT."

    I'd say that's probably a positive contribution to the gene pool.

    Hmm... at time of reading, 3 out of 8 comments here mourning (or at least related to) the passing of this wonder and 88 comments elsewhere arguing about the best OS -re Verity Stobs funny column.

    I wonder who the next giants will be and where they will take us. Oh to live forever and see it all.

    Rest in Peace Dr. Wheeler.

  12. Jack Moxley
    Paris Hilton

    Hawkins the Physics Guru.

    "Were it not for his disability, he'd likely as not be just another Cambridge professor."

    Yeah those Cambridge physics professors are as common as muck.

  13. Jon Tocker

    @ Dave

    Yeah, well, it was a twat from MIT speaking and the average American does not recognise the capabilities of anyone outside the USA so Mr Hawking "doesn't count" so far as he's concerned. Only people from the US of A can be superheroes, doncherknow.

    If Hawkings was born in the USA and taught at MIT, the quote would have been different but, being English, the best he can hope for is "supervillain", going by the portrayal of Brits/Poms/Limeys in most movies...

    @ Simon Ward:

    "speaking as an (ex-)physicist "

    So you've stopped going to MIT, then.

  14. Kristin McKechie

    A sad indictment

    The general standard of the comments here are a fair indication of the fact that is must be relatively easy to be a 'superhero' in any intellectual persuit - the competition isn't that strong...

    Despite the sad fact that humanity has just lost a great mind, most of the comments here are little more than ad-hominem attacks on either the man's character, his wartime activities or his contemporary colleagues ...

    Why can't people either pay their respect or just keep their silence in face of a great man's passing - no matter what his nationality, politics or 'achievements' its still a sad day for the world.

  15. Joe Cooper

    @Jon Tocker

    Tons of Americans know who Stephen Hawking is an respect him.

    However, being BORN IN 1942, he doesn't really count as being from the same generation as wheeler. The topic is clearly "people who in the early 20th century figured out relativity and black holes and shit", and we enlightened and educated (compared to you) Americans know Stephen Hawking wasn't there.

    Apparently you don't know anything about Stephen Hawking yourself, you just have a inferiority complex where you feel the need to turn any random discussion into an epic struggle to prove Americans aren't better.

    Oh, and you got Hawking's name wrong too.


    I'm not saying Americans are better than anyone, just that you have a blatant inferiority complex.

  16. Tony

    @ maajka

    And what about the allied PoWs and civilian internees? No-one actually knows the number of dead, but it is considerably more than than those killed by the 2 bombs concerned. There is also a little matter of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the 30s - again, no-one actually knows the number of dead; I've heard quotes in the millions.

    The issue of the article is to note the passing of a scientist who contributed in no small part to the advancement of knowledge. What his discoveries were used for (and will be in the future) is not necessarily within his control.

    We should be asking are we providing the education and support to allow future generations of scientists the opportunities to make their own discoveries.

  17. Joe Blogs

    @ maajka

    It is estimated that 55 million people dies during WW2, so 200,000 seems small scale as a way of stopping even more deaths.

  18. mightykipper

    Too few giants

    There are still one or two giants left but there seems to be an increasingly limited pool of them.

    Stephen Hawking is certainly a giant in the Black Hole arena and a damned sight cleverer than I'll ever be but I'm unsure if he can be classed a giant as he hasn't really done enough cross discipline work. His collaborator, the mathematician Roger Penrose, could be considered a giant in physics due to the way he seems to disregard what are often seen as fairly strict boundaries between disciplines in physics.

    I don't feel we've seen our generation's true genius yet but I hope it's only a matter of time before we see someone dabbling as competantly in stellar evolution, solid state physics and SuperString Theory as they do in optics.

    The giant is dead - long live the giants.

  19. Ambi Valent


    "It is estimated that 55 million people dies during WW2, so 200,000 seems small scale as a way of stopping even more deaths."

    More and more meaningless statistics!

    Only goes to show you how Bush-minded you are even you stop to think of the Iraq war and non-existent WMD.

    Mine is the one with an A-bomb n the detonator peeping out of the pocket!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Jeez, I'm not a hot admirer of the current Pax Americana, but the ww2 Japanese!!!

    Do the words Rape of Nanking mean anything or has that been airbrushed out as well?

  21. Anonymous Coward

    @Jon Tocker

    Speaking as a BRITISH ex-physicist I think that there is nothing particularly pro-american going on here. There really was a generation or two of physicists, not all (or even, perhaps. most) of whom were American, who achieved fantastic things, and Wheeler was probably the last of them still alive.

    I'm not sure if they were genuinely smarter (they clearly were pretty smart) or if they were just lucky to have lived at the right time. I suspect mostly the latter - once the foundations of GR and QM existed then there were (relatively) easy wins to be had all over the place. Most of those have now been had, and we're left struggling with extremely complex and difficult stuff, while (I hope) we wait for the next breakthrough, which will trigger another wave of suoperheroes.

    Hawking (and let's not forget Penrose) were simply too late in the day to have taken part in that wave.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    @ Terence McCarthy

    Read about the economic conditions and dishonour caused to Japanese people and state by the US government prior to WWII which precipitated Pearl Harbour (Which btw the American government had known was going to occur well in advance).

    I won't celebrate the life of a man whose legacy is helping to make an atom bomb. What a real contribution to humanity!!

  23. Joe Cooper


    Plenty of the people lumped in with the "giants" here weren't American anyway.

    It's a bit like saying "I'm tired of Americans ignoring our brilliant british scientists and instead focusing soley on Americans like Einstein!"

  24. Joe Cooper

    @Ambi Valent

    Lemme remind you that Bush did not drop The Bomb, and, in fact, was not president at the time.

    And while Bush likes to throw around bullshit World War II analogies alot, that doesn't mean that his crusades have anything to do with or are anything like what happened in World War II.

    That you even make the connection makes me think you listen to him a little too much ;)

  25. Anonymous Coward

    @Simon Ward

    Mr Hawking wouldn't be 'just another Cambs prof' - he'd have the crappy book he wrote to build him up.

    Don't get me wrong - the guy's good (certainly way out of my league), but you just try standing on his shoulders...

  26. Andus McCoatover

    Titanic proportions, anyone?

    OK, so we're in the vicinity of the ludicrous....

    Now, someone tell me that 911 (oops - that's a phone number) - I mean the terrorist strike on the World Trade Centre - was a biggie.

    Chicken feed to, say, the (illegal?) Vietnam war, or indeed the (definitely) illegal Iraq war. Oh, shit, I'm off again...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    War is hell

    Which is why it is something to be avoided ..... people tend to forget that part.

    The cold war prevented wars lets not forget that.

  28. George Johnson
    Paris Hilton

    Not wishing to drag of tack...

    Not to decry the sacrifices made on my behalf, but the West European allied forces loses were small compared to Russia. 20 million Russian troops died in WWII alone, just 'cos hated Uncle Joe was in charge, no one remembers their sacrifice.

    Anyway... I must say that I too get the feeling that this world just seems to be getting a little more vacuous every time another of these great people leaves us. A great mind is no longer held up as something to aspire to, instead we get empty headed morons worshiping at the feet of even emptier headed celebrities. Guess what bimbo, those clothes, that make up, that car, your house, all designed by scientists working countless hours across the globe for your benefit!

    Paris icon, the perfect example of my whinge!

  29. Anonymous Coward


    Hang on minute...Stephen Hawking is English?? Then why does he talk with an American accent?

    Mine's the one with the target on the back...

  30. stizzleswick

    @Dave et al.

    "mr Hawking might be a bit of a physics guru"

    Actually, while Mr. Hawkings' contributions in the form of popular science literature are undeniable, he has not really contributed much to physics as such. He is a gifted lecturer and a solid theoretical physicist, but nowhere even near Wheeler in his contributions.

    Mine's the one with the wormholes...

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Joe Cooper

    Einstein was not American he simply lived in America. He was German. Wheeler was a Giant, Hawking isn't in the scheme of things. Hes a great popular physicist and obviously very clever but hes no Fehnman, Wheeler, Newton, Einstein, Bohr to name but a few (of which only two were American by birth).

    Stop turning everything into a contest. Im British BTW.

  32. Joe Cooper

    @Anonymous Coward

    "Einstein was not American he simply lived in America."

    I know. It was a joke, referring to the complaints by Tocker and others that the giants are only Americans and ignore brits. I actually agree with you, and was annoyed that people were turning it into a contest.

  33. John Savard

    Economic Conditions and Dishonor?

    Pearl Harbor was not the result of the U.S. government causing bad "economic conditions" for the Japanese people, or inflicting "dishonor" on them. It was their refusal to sell them scrap metal, and so on, while the Japanese were busy inflcting things like the Rape of Nanking on China. Of course the United States would at least impose trade sanctions on a nation engaged in a blatant and brutal aggression of that sort.

  34. peter Silver badge

    British giants

    Paul Dirac was a British giant from the same generation.

    But for now: so long colourful, poetic, vibrant John Archibald Wheeler - assured a place in the history of physics.

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