- TELLER, EDWARD
- TELLER, EDWARD (1908–2003), physicist, U.S. citizen from 1941. Teller was born in Budapest but left Hungary because of Horthy's quota system for university entrance, ostensibly to study chemistry in the Karlsruhe Technical Institute (1926). He changed to mathematics at Munich University before moving to the University of Leipzig in 1928 after a break occasioned by the loss of most of his right foot in a trolley car accident. Teller received his doctorate in Leipzig (1930), where his career interests were determined by Heisenberg's teaching of quantum physics to extraordinarily gifted students. He held a research appointment at the University of Gottingen (1929–33), where he worked on molecular structure, notably of hydrogen, and collaborated with niels bohr in Copenhagen and Enrico Fermi in Rome. Foreseeing the fate of Jewish scientists in Nazi Germany, he moved to the U.K. in 1933, where he was sponsored by the British scientists Frederick Lindenmann and George Donnan. After further work on nuclear structure in the Institute for Theoretical Physics, Copenhagen, and University College, London, he moved to George Washington University (1935) with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. His work on nuclear structure and particle behavior in radioactive decay (with George Gamow) made him receptive to the momentous consequences of the newly discovered phenomenon of nuclear fission. In 1939 Teller accompanied Leo Szilard to the meeting with einstein which resulted in the letter to President Roosevelt and eventually to the Manhattan Project. In 1942 he joined Fermi in Chicago, where the world's first nuclear reactor was constructed and where they discussed the possibilities of a sustained nuclear fusion reaction. In 1943 he was recruited to the Manhattan Project team at Los Alamos. His contribution to the development of fission weapons was often ambivalent but he showed immense insight in helping to solve the problems of his collaborators. He was, however, preoccupied with the problems of nuclear fusion reactions. Teller's contribution to the eventual production of fission weapons was partly political. His experience of antisemitism in Hungary, the Nazi regime in Germany, Communist persecution of fellow scientists accused of disloyalty, and the Communist regime in postwar Hungary convinced him of the necessity to compete with the Soviets in the race for thermonuclear weapons. His views overcame the doubts of many scientists and politicians. His practical contribution was to design (with stanislaw ulam ) a fission trigger for sustained hydrogen nuclear fusion. He advocated the establishment of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which he later directed (1958–60), as a second center for nuclear weapons research. From 1960 to 2003 he held senior, later emeritus positions at Livermore and in the University of California. His interests concerned the practical applications of nuclear technology to power units in ships and submarines, often rather speculative civil engineering projects such as a Red Sea to Dead Sea canal, and anti-missile defense. He was a pioneer of safety measures in nuclear power stations. His passion for science education established the University of California at Davis as a leading school. Temperamentally unpredictable, Teller was shunned by many colleagues who opposed the development of thermonuclear weapons, his opposition to test ban treaties, and his enthusiasm for antimissile defense systems. Many were appalled by his testimony to the Gray Committee (1954), when he opposed oppenheimer 's access to classified information. Despite this opposition he was a major influence on U.S. defense policy. He was awarded the Fermi Prize (1962), the National Medal of Science, the Herzl Prize given to descendants of Hungarian Jewry who have distinguished themselves on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2003). (Michael Denman (2nd ed.)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.