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Leó Szilárd and thinking ahead


Inspirational people
James Watson Scientist
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Well, living one, only, you know, Roger Federer, the tennis player. But I would think, no, there’s no younger person I’d want to be like. Leó Szilárd was someone who I, I admire, because he could think three or four steps at a time. You know, he saw the consequence of the nuclear chain reaction so fast, he went through British Admiralty and patented it as a state secret. Now, that’s really thinking ahead. You know, you had Roosevelt, right I mean, he wrote the letter that Einstein signed. It was Leó who got Fermi to, you know, work with him on the nuclear pile. I think Fermi was one step, you know, you did that, and you did that. But not, assuming step B works, then what’s C, and then, maybe C leads to D, you know? Leó was, you know, out of Germany within days of Hitler’s coming to power. You know, fast. He saw. You know, I don’t think there was anyone faster than Leó. So, it was really, and, that is most people want too much certainty before they do it. That is, they don’t want to say, if A means B, and B means C, then D will happen, because they say, well, they’ll probably have A going to B, you know, until that happens, don’t worry about the next. So, you’ve got to take seriously an 80% probability, and assume what’s going to happen, and then you’ll find C, and then, well, the probabilities are less, but you, you work that way. You know, within seconds of learning, you know, that Kennedy had been shot, Leó was worrying about how to influence Lyndon Johnson. I spent the evening, that’s all he was talking about, how to get to Johnson.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 2 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010