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The Shelter Island Conference


Joining the President's Science Advisory Committee
Hans Bethe Scientist
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These activities took up a great deal of my time and kept me in contact with government operations. I didn't get as deeply into this as, for instance, Oppenheimer did, or Bacher, who became the Civilian Commissioner on the Atomic Energy Commission. But I was asked, much later, in 1956, to become a member of the so-called Science Advisory Committee, which then, in '57, was adopted by the President - then Eisenhower - and became the President's Science Advisory Committee. And that involved a great deal of time, a great deal of work and, I think, also a great deal of accomplishment.

[Q] Right after the war, as you have told us, you come back to Cornell and you and your colleagues, but you certainly become very, if not the dominant personality in this, in building up physics at Cornell and in particular high energy physics at Cornell. The laboratory gets built up as you said.

The most important person was Robert Bacher, but I was in it as well, and in particular, I induced Richard Feynman to come to Cornell. And in the ensuing years, he did his greatest work, namely, quantum electrodynamics.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Atomic Energy Commission, Science Advisory Committee, Cornell University, President's Science Advisory Committee, J Robert Oppenheimer, Robert Bacher, Richard Feynman, Dwight D Eisenhower

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008