Trinity Remembered

Leo Szilard (1898-1964)

Leo Szilard

Szilard was born in Budapest, Hungary, on February 11, 1898. Due to racial quotas, he had to go the Institute of Technology in Berlin, where he met several brilliant physicists such as Albert Einstein, and Max Planck. Szilard received his doctorate in physics in 1922. Szilard and Einstein became close friends. By 1933, Szilard was forced to resign and he eventually fled to the United States, where he accepted a teaching position at Columbia University. With the news that German scientists discovered nuclear fission, Szilard immediately set up series of experiments, in collaboration with Enrico Fermi, to see if the theory was correct.

He was best known for encouraging Einstein to warn President Roosevelt about the possibility of an atomic bomb. He continued his work with Fermi at the Metallurgical Laboratory to construct the first nuclear reactor. By 1945, it was clear that the U.S. was planning to use the bomb against Japan. Szilard began a campaign against its use. He circulated petitions among the scientists demanding greater scientific input on the future use of atomic weapons.

In 1947, Szilard decided to leave physics for biology, but he continued to work toward peaceful uses of atomic energy and international arms control. In 1957, he helped created the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Szilard died in his sleep of a heart attack on May 30, 1964.