John A. Wheeler died of pneumonia Sunday at his home in Hightstown, NJ. He was 96 years old. Wheeler was a contemporary of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr and had been credited with coining the phrase “black hole” in reference to a collapsed star. If it weren’t for Wheeler, the term might have been the less-sexy “gravitationally completely collapsed star,” which would have been sucky.
Wheeler also had a hand in the creation of the atomic bomb. Unlike other people involved with the project, Wheeler’s only regret was that it wasn’t completed sooner to bring a faster end to the European theater of World War II, which claimed the life of his brother Joe in 1944. Wheeler later helped develop the hydrogen bomb.
Receiving his doctorate at just 21 years old, Wheeler also taught at Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em Horns!). One of his students was Richard Feynman, who went on to win the Noble Prize in 1965. Wheeler is survived by three children as well as some grandchildren and great-grandchildren.