John Wheeler’s visit to LIGO Hanford, August 2000

In the world of Physics, Dr. John Archibald Wheeler was a very big deal.  But if you weren’t in the world of Physics, you never heard of him. Heard of Black Holes? He’s the guy who coined the name (as well as doing the very early theorizing on them). He also built and ran a nuclear reactor at Hanford in the 1940s which produced some of the nuclear material used in the bombs dropped on Japan. He was one of the co-authors of the classic book on gravity (Gravitation by Misner, Thorne and Wheeler). His students included Richard Feynman and Kip Thorne.

I don’t know how or why exactly it came about, but in August of 2000 Wheeler, age 89, was going to pay a visit to LIGO Hanford. He was also going to visit the B reactor at Hanford, the reactor he built during World War II. There were lectures in Richland, book signings and a dinner in his honor. He was going to be brought to LIGO by Kip Thorne and his wife Carolee.  It was going to quite a show.

At the time I had one of the very new digital cameras, the sort with removable flash memory. I think it was for this reason, and no other, I was assigned as unofficial LIGO Wheeler photographer and general stalker. This pleased me greatly as I had read many of Wheeler’s papers, some of which were applicable to Jim Woodward’s work (Yay, Absorber Theory!).

Wheeler visited for two days, August 15 and 16 of 2000, if I recall correctly. The first day would be at LIGO, a dinner that evening, then the following day a tour of Hanford’s B reactor. Through it all I dutifully tagged along taking pics. I uploaded the pictures on to LIGO’s servers and that was it. I thought I had kept copies for myself, but looking around in later years I couldn’t find any. That was certainly stupid of me.

Then in August of 2013, while looking for something in my garage, I came upon an old CD-R labeled “Garage computer backup – 2005”. Hey, don’t give me crap….Doesn’t everyone have a garage computer? Anyway, I had no idea what was on it, but it was 8 years old and I was curious as to what I thoguth was worth saving eight years earlier. Putting in my PC, what should I find but a bunch of pics I took of Wheeler’s LIGO visit so many years ago. I quickly put them on my hard drive and made sure they were backed up. Unfortunately I didn’t find any pictures of the day of the B reactor visit, just LIGO.

So in the interest of obscure history, he are some pics of Dr. John Archibald Wheeler’s August 2000 visit to LIGO Hanford and a few Wheeler quotes.

Fred Raab showing Wheeler and Kip Thorne's wife Carolee the interior of the LVEA building. That's  the evacuated beam tube behind them. Laser safety goggles for everyone here.

LIGO Hanford Director Fred Raab showing Wheeler and Kip Thorne’s wife Carolee the interior of the LVEA building. That’s the evacuated beam tube behind them. Laser safety goggles for everyone here.

Doug Cook (I think) showing Wheeler on of the LIGO optics in the bake room.

Doug Cook (I think) showing Wheeler on of the LIGO optics in the bake room.

Time is defined so that motion looks simple.  John Archibald Wheeler

Wheeler being shown one of the Reference Cavities used for laser testing.

Wheeler being shown one of the Reference Cavities used for laser testing.

Spacetime tells matter how to move, matter tells spacetime how to curve.  John Archibald Wheeler

Wheeler being shown around the LIGO Hanford grounds by Mark "Ski" Lubinski. That's the protective concrete cover for the evacuated beam tube. That cover runs off in the distance 2.4 miles.

Wheeler being shown around the LIGO Hanford grounds by Mark “Ski” Lubinski. That’s the protective concrete cover for the evacuated beam tube. That cover runs off in the distance for 2.4 miles.

In any field find the strangest thing and then explore it.  John Archibald Wheeler

Ski and Wheeler at one of the beam tube cover's access doors.

Ski and Wheeler at one of the beam tube cover’s access doors.

There is no law except the law that there is no law.  John Archibald Wheeler

Dinner for Wheeler with Fred Raab making a presentation. Kip Thorne is to the right of Wheeler

Dinner for Wheeler with Fred Raab making a presentation. Kip Thorne is to the right of Wheeler

Another view of the crowd at Wheeler's dinner. I don't know who they all are, but they are very, very smart.

Another view of the crowd at Wheeler’s dinner. I don’t know who they all are, but they are very, very smart.

Wheeler being recognized

Wheeler being recognized

If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day. John Archibald Wheeler

The poster at Wheeler's dinner

The poster at Wheeler’s dinner

Black Holes have no hair.  John Archibald Wheeler

Yet another table of physics nerds/geeks/smart people at Wheeler's dinner.

Yet another table of physics nerds/geeks/smart people at Wheeler’s dinner. I don’t recall who these people are!

The "A" table where I somehow ended up. On the right that's Kip Thorne, then Wheeler, then Carolee (Kip's wife) and Rai Weiss (brilliant scientist and great guy). On the left is Barry Barrish, director of the entire LIGO project, Dave Ottaway (ner'do'well Australian), my seat and Bill Butler (equally ner'do'well, not Australian but looking quite glassy-eyed)

The “A” table where I somehow ended up. On the right that’s Kip Thorne, then Wheeler, then Carolee (Kip’s wife) and Rai Weiss (brilliant scientist and great guy). On the left is Barry Barrish, director of the entire LIGO project, Dave Ottaway (ner’do’well Australian), my seat and Bill Butler (equally ner’do’well, not Australian but looking quite glassy-eyed)

Dr. John Archibald Wheeler, August 15, 2000

Dr. John Archibald Wheeler, August 15, 2000

No phenomenon is a physical phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.   John Archibald Wheeler

Kip Thorne and John Wheeler

Kip Thorne and John Wheeler

Some people think Wheeler’s gotten crazy in his later years, but he’s always been crazy. Richard P. Feynman