Edward Teller is known as the father of the Hydrogen Bomb. Originally born in Hungary, he later worked under Werner Heisenberg in Germany, but fled to Denmark to work under Niels Bohr in 1934 when the Nazis came to power. He eventualy emigrated to the United States, worked on the Manhattan project under J. Robert Oppenheimer, and was one of the few researchers insisting that the bomb should be more powerful. He produced the calculations that proved the nuclear reaction would not propagate and destroy the earth. The first bomb was much simpler and less powerful than his design, but his ideas were eventually accepted by the US Government after the USSR conducted their first nuclear weapons test.

Teller always felt the scientists at Los Alamos were too ambivalent about creating fusion weapons, so he lobbied for the creation of Lawrence Livermore laboratory in California. When suspicion fell on Oppenheimer for disloyalty, his security clearance was revoked, and most of his friends blamed Teller for it, creating a rift between him and most of his former colleagues.

Also known as the possible inspiration for the movie Dr. Strangelove, Teller had a very similar German accent, and had a foot amputated by a streetcar accident.

Of course, Stanislaw Ulam worked out the H-Bomb design that actually worked (and Teller's original design wouldn't work). See Rhodes' excellent book Dark Sun for details.

I imagine both parties weren't displeased that the credit for this invention goes to Teller.

Edward Teller is truly an amazing man. He is most famous for the Hydrogen bomb, launching the original Manhattan Project with Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein, and founding Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He has received too many awards to list, and 23 honorary degrees since his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Leipzig, in Science, Law, Philosophy, and other branches of humanities from prestigious universities around the world.

I, along with a few other undergraduate and graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley had a chance to meet him at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. At 92, his body is feeble but his intellect is great. He was pushed into the room on a wheel chair, and it seemed as if he were dozing. Someone asked a question, and he sat still for what seemed like an age. Suddenly he answered so perfectly it seemed as if he had prepared a speech. Later I read that as a child he began to talk late, but when he did, he spoke in complete sentences - that seemed characteristic of him. Everything we asked, he had a specific comprehensive answer to. He had so much to say to us - not on the hydrogen bomb, but on history, on how to improve the American education system, on what the future might be like.

Even today Teller is still well-alive in the field. He retired from Lawrence Livermore in 1975 and is now Director Emeritus at LLNL and senior research fellow at Stanford University. At the end of our meeting he proposed to us a new idea for a safe underground nuclear fusion reactor, a topic that may now be one of the student's thesis.

Editor's note: Edward Teller died in Stanford on 9 September 2003.

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