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The success meaning that Livermore could continue


Checking the explosions on a seismograph (Part 2)
Edward Teller Scientist
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The spot moved all the time. It moved all the time as I very promptly found out, because my eye was not sufficiently steady, my eye was moving. But there was an obvious remedy: hold a pencil against the spot. My finger was not moving. The relative position of the spot and the pencil could be clearly seen and now I saw the spot was at rest and I waited for the time announced for the explosion and nothing happened. Of course, nothing could happen because at that time the shock was generated thousands of miles away. It would take, and I knew it well, some fifteen or twenty minutes for the earthquake wave, the mild earthquake wave to travel under the Pacific and reach Berkeley and just at the time when it should happen, the green spot moved. It looked to me right. I did not quite completely dare to believe it. I waited. Will more follow? Five minutes, ten minutes, nothing more came. I went up to the place where all this would be recorded and evaluated and it turned out not only did the earthquake wave arrived, it had with good accuracy the amount of motion that we anticipated. Ernest Lawrence came over, congratulated me. I had a strong desire to tell my friends in Los Alamos that it worked, but of course that was out of the question, anything of that kind was a secret. I had an idea. The man in charge, Graves, had a very nice and scientific wife, Elisabeth Graves. So I sent a message by wire, open wire, in a code that I have invented on the spot. The full message was- It's a boy. The message, I'm very happy to report, was received in Los Alamos, was understood in Los Alamos and we beat their official notification by hours.

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: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008