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Drinking tea with Niels Bohr


Going to see Einstein give a lecture
Edward Teller Scientist
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Now, I would like to tell you a few stories about the same period. It was a wonderful period, a period full of new discoveries, full of new, new knowledge. And also full of people who have understood what is going on only in part. I want to tell you one story involving myself. Heisenberg, from time to time, recommended to his students to go up to Berlin, to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, and listen to some iner-interesting talks. And so, on his advice, with all of my 21 or 22 years, I went to listen to a lecture by Einstein, of his later theories in which he explains relativity and electromagnetism with the same ideas. I listened carefully and I understood everything for the first 30 seconds. And after that I understood less and less and less. And when in the end he finished and some of us including Eugene Wigner went to talk- went to walk in the zoological garden, beautiful sunshine, there I was completely desperate. And Eugene, an old friend and a very kind person, comes to me- What's the matter? And I answered him, in Hungarian, in very simple terms. I said- I am so stupid. And now, Wigner basically, very basically, the kindest of all men, should have contradicted me but he didn't. He said- Yes, stupidity is a general human property. Now, you know, the remarkable thing is that, that, that he made me feel much better. That sounded like the truth- All right, I'm stupid; so is everybody else. The point that I did not know then but I know now, that among the people who did not understand what Einstein was saying was Einstein himself. He did wonderful things until 1920, at which time I don't know, he was not yet forty years old, I believe. After that he tried to explain everything and did not succeed.

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, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008