Edward Teller (1908 - 2003)
Edward Teller was born on January 15, 1908 in Budapest, Hungary. He left his homeland in 1926 to study in Germany. In 1930 he got his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Leipzig. With Hilter’s rise to power in Germany, Teller emigrated to the United States to take a teaching position at George Washington University in 1935. Teller, along with Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, persuaded Albert Einstein to warn President Roosevelt of a potential Nazi atomic bomb. Teller was among the first scientists recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.
During the Manhattan Project, Teller first worked with Szilard at the University of Chicago. In 1943, he headed a group at Los Alamos in the Theoretical Physics division, however his obsession with the H-bomb caused tensions with other scientists, particularly Hans Bethe, the division leader.
Teller left Los Alamos at the end of the war, returning to the University of Chicago. But when the Soviet Union conducted its first test of an atomic device in August 1949, he did his best to drum up support for a crash program to build a hydrogen bomb. When he and mathematician Stanislaw Ulam finally came up with an H-bomb design that would work, Teller was not chosen to head the project. He left Los Alamos and soon joined the newly established Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a rival nuclear weapons lab in California.
It was Oppenheimer’s security clearance hearings in 1954 that was the occasion for the final rift between Teller and many of his scientific colleagues. At Oppenheimer’s hearings, Teller testified that “I feel I would prefer to see the vital interests of this country in hands that I understand better and therefore trust more.”
Teller continued to be a tireless advocate of a strong defense policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons and continued nuclear testing. He was a vigorous proponent of an anti-ballistic missile shield. He was appointed Director Emeritus at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, positions that he held until his death. Teller received numerous awards during his career, including the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to him in 2003 by President Bush.
On September 9th, 2003, Teller suffered a stroke and died in Stanford, California.