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Maria Mayer winning the Nobel Prize


Leaving Los Alamos
Edward Teller Scientist
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There had been plan that when we finish with the atomic bomb, the next thing would be the hydrogen bomb. It was even decided that at that time the two very excellent people, Fermi and Bethe, should take over the work on that. But the next day, I think it was the 16th of August, Oppenheimer came to see me and he said- The war is over. We stop working on everything, including the hydrogen bomb. He was very friendly, he was very definite. There was no point in arguing. People decided to go home. Oppenheimer's proposal about Los Alamos was- Give it back to the Indians. It was decided however in Washington to continue. Oppenheimer wouldn't continue and picked a professor from Stanford, Bradbury, who joined Los Alamos in the middle of his wartime work, he should take over the directorship. People prepared to go home, to go back to their usual work. Some of my friends from England, the Peierls, decided first to go down to Mexico, do a bit a sightseeing, I was going with them, my wife and I, and then I couldn't. I was called to testify in Washington. I tell you this for two very different reasons. One was my testimony which was open, which is available, was available then and now, and the main point I went to Washington for was- We have the atomic bomb. Now we better to look for a way to defend against it. And that will not be easy. It will be necessary to control the skies, but that is the main job ahead of us. That was February 1946. The other reason was I couldn't go, my wife wanted to go, there was an open place to fill. One of our friends was asked to go. His name is familiar to all of you. He was a very nice man, an excellent physicist, a little peculiar because he did not talk much. His name was Klaus Fuchs. One of the ladies called him Penny-in-the-slot Fuchs, because if you asked him a question, he gave an answer and if it was a very interesting question, it might be longer than just yes or no. One clearly had the impression that he had a lot to say and did not say it. Mici, the Peierls had a good time. We all went wherever we were going and I very happily accepted a new, a new job, Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago - not back in Washington - Chicago, and I was very happy about that because Chicago made a special effort to invite people who played a role in the recent developments. These people included Enrico Fermi, included Maria Mayer with whom I worked on peripheral projects at Columbia. There followed four years of wonderful, effective scientific work in Chicago.

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

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008