a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Edward Teller's ideas for a fusion bomb


Invitation from Oppenheimer to join the Manhattan Project
Hans Bethe Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I thought I was settled at the Radiation Laboratory for the duration of the war, and this would have been quite satisfactory, but Robert Oppenheimer called me and said he needed me for another project. And he made it clear that this was related to uranium fission and I don't precisely remember how he made that clear. Anyway I agreed to join for the summer of '42 and proceeded to travel west to San Francisco and Berkeley, and on the way I visited Chicago. In Chicago in the physics department one part of the building had been closed off and made secret. That was where Enrico Fermi pursued his quest for establishing a chain reaction of fission in natural uranium. And after many tries it was now clear, it was made clear to me that the chances were very high that Fermi would succeed and that then the chain reaction would produce plutonium-239 which was fissionable just like uranium-235 and could be used as the active material in a nuclear weapon. Because of that the project at Chicago which was under the direction of Arthur Compton decided that it was now time to be serious about actually building a nuclear weapon and that to build, to develop the theory of that they had appointed Oppenheimer to lead that project. So Oppenheimer assembled a group of... of theoretical physicists: Teller and myself, and Robert Serber who was already at Berkeley as Oppenheimer's right-hand man, two younger people from Berkeley and my old collaborator, Konopinski. In addition to that, van Vleck from Harvard. So we had a summer study lasting two months or so.

[Q] I believe Edward Teller was there too.

I mentioned him, I think. Anyway Edward Teller was very much there, and it turned out that Serber and his graduate students had the theory of explosion of uranium or plutonium... bomb already well in hand and we just listened and it was clear that they done a... a very good job of that.

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: MIT Radiation Lab, San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago University, J Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Arthur Compton, Robert Serber, Emil Konopinski, John Hasbrouck Van Vleck

Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008