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An influence by Wigner and deciding to start a family


Questioning the motivation and consequences of this work
Edward Teller Scientist
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Los Alamos. It was a new undertaking. It was something rather different from going to a university and changing one research from one topic to enough- to a somewhat different topic. What was the motivation of all of us? I don't know. I know something about myself. Even what brought me to Chicago and what drove me from Chicago to Los Alamos. Because, in fact, I was not happy about any of this. What I had been doing in pure physics was wonderful. What we are now setting up, up to do was something very, very different. And I want to tell you about one of my thorough motivations and also how one of my friends, Eugene Wigner, felt about all of this. As far as I am concerned, I took an increasing ins- interest, not really, I'm sorry to say, not from the time of Hitler invading Poland, but a little bit later, when he invaded the West, Belgium. I was still, at that time, in Washington and there was a conference, an international conference, no, an inter-American conference to be exact, that Roosevelt was to address. And against my usual habit, I did not miss an op- opportunity to hear a politician, because of the invasion of Hitler of the Netherlands, Belgium, by Hitler. That was a few months after Einstein has written to Roosevelt and Roosevelt asked our opinion. Roosevelt talked about the dangers, not to Western Europe; the dangers to the whole world. He made a point of how much- how smaller, how much smaller the world had become, that from century to century, from decade to decade, politics here and there were coupled more closely. And then he concluded, in a remarkable fashion. He said- I know that you will be told that without the new weapons of science, the danger would hardly exist. I am telling you that this is in a great measure true, but at the same time, it is true that if you scientists don't work on weapons, the National Socialists will conquer the world. I listened. I had a strange feeling that Roosevelt was talking to me. We never met. But I may have, been among the couple of thousand people in the audience, I may have been the only one who knew of the letter that Roosevelt got, who knew that among the new weapons Roosevelt had the atomic bomb in mind. So that was a part of my motivation.

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: 6 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008