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Presenting the new ideas to the Atomic Energy Commission


Tests to see whether the experiment worked
Edward Teller Scientist
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There it was, one fine morning in the spring of 1951, I was looking at the explosion. So was Ernest Lawrence who kept the interest in the whole business. We saw the explosion go off and we had no idea whether it was a success or not, because what we looked at was the fission energy which was to be used to set into motion a chain of events which Johnny Wheeler and his people calculated - rightly or wrongly? That was the question. There were a number of sensors, of sensitive equipment placed around the explosion from which we received input that was to be evaluated and found, did it work or did it not work and did it work the way that Johnny Wheeler calculated it? That afternoon Ernest took me out to swim in the lagoon and I told Ernest, you know, for the perhaps not right but usual reasons, I said- I'm afraid it didn't work. And Ernest said- I bet you five bucks it did. Next morning, not yet dressed, brushing my teeth, one of the experiment- excellent experimentalists was doing the same thing next to me and he told me- We found a fast proton. That was telling me that it worked- But, my friend said- it's only one. We are not certain. Don't tell anybody yet. That morning Ernest was taking off to a visit for Japan, I didn't tell anybody, but as Ernest's car was about to leave, I ran out and gave Ernest five bucks. I think that was the most serious security violation I ever committed. The fact is that the predictions of Johnny Wheeler turned out to be very quantitatively and completely correct.

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, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008