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Discussing the compression ideas with Ulam


The idea of the equilibrium super
Edward Teller Scientist
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In Los Alamos a new development was occurring, a development due in part, in very important part to Neddermeyer and to a contribution of Johnny von Neumann and myself: with a strong implosion one could make materials at more than the usual density. Several people have raised the question- Wouldn't the hydrogen bomb work better if you compressed it? And I said- No, no, no. Why? Because I got it in my mind that the hydrogen bomb will not work unless you could cut off the time, make the time short enough so that a mixture of radiation could not occur. Compression would speed up the desirable reactions, but equally speed up the emission of radiation, so in the end it would not count. When it began to look as though the original plans would not work, I was forced to review everything and at that point I got, late in 1950, an exceedingly simple idea: you try to compress. In the thermonuclear reaction what you would compress would be to a great extent hydrogen. That is easy to compress many-fold and when it is compressed, in the compressed state radiation would be present to a lesser extent proportional to the volume. I no longer need to worry about how fast radiation gets emitted, because in the dense state it would be absorbed again. That was the idea of the Equilibrium Super.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 2 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008