Edward Teller

Edward Teller

Edward Teller
Teller in 1958 as Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Born (1908-01-15)January 15, 1908
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
(now Hungary)
Died September 9, 2003(2003-09-09) (aged 95)
Stanford, California, United States
Residence United States
Nationality Hungarian-American
Fields Physics (theoretical[1]
Alma mater
Doctoral advisor Werner Heisenberg
Doctoral students
Other notable students Jack Steinberger
Known for
Notable awards
  • Augusta Maria Harkanyi
    (1934–2000 (her death))
  • Two children

Edward Teller (Hungarian: Teller Ede; January 15, 1908 – September 9, 2003) was a Hungarian-born American theoretical physicist[1][2][3] who, although he claimed he did not care for the title,[4] is known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb". He made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy (in particular, the Jahn–Teller and Renner–Teller effects) and surface physics. His extension of Enrico Fermi's theory of beta decay, in the form of the so-called Gamow–Teller transitions, provided an important stepping stone in its application, while the Jahn–Teller effect and the Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) theory have retained their original formulation and are still mainstays in physics and chemistry.[5] Teller also made contributions to Thomas–Fermi theory, the precursor of density functional theory, a standard modern tool in the quantum mechanical treatment of complex molecules. In 1953, along with Nicholas Metropolis and Marshall Rosenbluth, Teller co-authored a paper[6] which is a standard starting point for the applications of the Monte Carlo method to statistical mechanics.

Teller immigrated to the United States in the 1930s, and was an early member of the Manhattan Project charged with developing the first atomic bombs. During this time he made a serious push to develop the first fusion-based weapons as well, but these were deferred until after World War II. After his controversial testimony in the security clearance hearing of his former Los Alamos colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer, Teller was ostracized by much of the scientific community. He continued to find support from the U.S. government and military research establishment, particularly for his advocacy for nuclear energy development, a strong nuclear arsenal, and a vigorous nuclear testing program. He was a co-founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and was both its director and associate director for many years.

In his later years, Teller became especially known for his advocacy of controversial technological solutions to both military and civilian problems, including a plan to excavate an artificial harbor in Alaska using thermonuclear explosive in what was called Project Chariot. He was a vigorous advocate of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Throughout his life, Teller was known both for his scientific ability and his difficult interpersonal relations and volatile personality, and is considered one of the inspirations for the character Dr. Strangelove in the 1964 movie of the same name.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Manhattan Project 2
    • Decision to drop the bombs 2.1
    • Post Manhattan days 2.2
  • Hydrogen bomb 3
  • Oppenheimer controversy 4
  • US Government work and political advocacy 5
  • Global Climate Change 6
  • Operation Plowshare and Project Chariot 7
  • Nuclear technology and Israel 8
  • Three Mile Island 9
  • Strategic Defense Initiative 10
  • Asteroid impact avoidance 11
  • Death and legacy 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14
  • Sources 15
  • Further reading 16
  • External links 17

Early life and education

Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary (then Austria-Hungary), into a Jewish family in 1908. His parents were Ilona (née Deutsch), a pianist, and Max Teller, an attorney.[7] Despite being raised in a Jewish family, he later on became an agnostic.[8] He developed the ability to speak later than most children but became very interested in numbers, and would calculate large numbers in his head for fun.[9]

He left Hungary in 1926 (partly due to the Rome with Enrico Fermi for young Teller, thus orienting his scientific career in nuclear physics.[12]

Teller in his youth

Teller spent two years at the University of Göttingen, and left in 1933 through the aid of the International Rescue Committee. He went briefly to England, and moved for a year to Copenhagen, where he worked under Niels Bohr. In February 1934, he married Augusta Maria "Mici" (pronounced "Mitzi") Harkanyi, the sister of a longtime friend.

In 1935, thanks to George Gamow's incentive, Teller was invited to the United States to become a Professor of Physics at fission in 1939, Teller was engaged as a theoretical physicist, working in the fields of quantum, molecular, and nuclear physics. In 1941, after becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States, his interest turned to the use of nuclear energy, both fusion and fission.

At GWU, Teller predicted the Jahn–Teller effect (1937), which distorts molecules in certain situations; this affects the chemical reactions of metals, and in particular the coloration of certain metallic dyes. Teller and Hermann Arthur Jahn analyzed it as a piece of purely mathematical physics. In collaboration with Brunauer and Emmet, Teller also made an important contribution to surface physics and chemistry: the so-called Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) isotherm.[13]

When World War II began, Teller wanted to contribute to the war effort. On the advice of the well-known Caltech aerodynamicist and fellow Hungarian émigré Theodore von Kármán, Teller collaborated with his friend Hans Bethe in developing a theory of shock-wave propagation. In later years, their explanation of the behavior of the gas behind such a wave proved valuable to scientists who were studying missile re-entry.[14]

Manhattan Project

In 1942, Teller was invited to be part of Robert Oppenheimer's summer planning seminar at the University of California, Berkeley for the origins of the Manhattan Project, the Allied effort to develop the first nuclear weapons. A few weeks earlier, Teller had been meeting with his friend and colleague Enrico Fermi about the prospects of atomic warfare, and Fermi had nonchalantly suggested that perhaps a weapon based on nuclear fission could be used to set off an even larger nuclear fusion reaction. Even though he initially explained to Fermi why he thought the idea would not work, Teller was fascinated by the possibility and was quickly bored with the idea of "just" an atomic bomb (even though this was not yet anywhere near completion). At the Berkeley session, Teller diverted discussion from the fission weapon to the possibility of a fusion weapon—what he called the "Super" (an early version of what was later to be known as a hydrogen bomb).[15]

On December 6, 1941, the United States had begun development of the atomic bomb, under the supervision of Arthur Compton, chairman of the University of Chicago physics department, who coordinated uranium research with Columbia University, Princeton University, University of Chicago, and University of California, Berkeley. Eventually Compton transferred the Columbia and Princeton scientists to the Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago, and Enrico Fermi moved in at the end of April 1942 and the construction of Chicago Pile 1 began. Teller was left behind at first, but then called to Chicago two months later. In early 1943, the Los Alamos laboratory was built to design an atomic bomb under the supervision of Oppenheimer in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Teller moved there in April 1943.[16]

Teller's ID badge photo from Los Alamos

Teller became part of the Theoretical Physics division at the then-secret Los Alamos laboratory during the war, and continued to push his ideas for a fusion weapon even though it had been put on a low priority during the war (as the creation of a fission weapon was proving to be difficult enough by itself). Because of his interest in the H-bomb, and his frustration at having been passed over for director of the theoretical division (the job was instead given to Hans Bethe), Teller refused to engage in the calculations for the implosion mechanism of the fission bomb. This caused tensions with other researchers, as additional scientists had to be employed to do that work—including Klaus Fuchs, who was later revealed to be a Soviet spy.[17] Apparently, Teller managed to also irk his neighbors by playing the piano late in the night.[18] However, Teller made valuable contributions to bomb research, especially in the elucidation of the implosion mechanism; he is believed to have been the first to suggest the imploding design that was eventually successful with the Trinity test explosion, a design that despite becoming known as a "Christy pit" (after physicist Robert F. Christy, who made the solid pit design a reality), was initially proposed by Teller.[19][20][21][22]

He also was one of the few scientists to actually watch (with eye protection) the first test detonation in July 1945, rather than follow orders to lie on the ground with backs turned. He later said that the atomic flash "was as if I had pulled open the curtain in a dark room and broad daylight streamed in."[23]

Decision to drop the bombs

In the days before and after the first demonstration of a nuclear weapon, the Trinity test in July 1945, his fellow Hungarian Leo Szilard circulated the Szilard petition that argued that a demonstration to the Japanese of the new weapon should occur prior to actual use on Japan, and with that hopefully the weapons would never be used on people. In response to Szilard's petition, Teller consulted his friend Robert J. Oppenheimer. Teller believed that Oppenheimer was a natural leader and could help him with such a formidable political problem.[24] Oppenheimer reassured Teller that the nation’s fate should be left to the sensible politicians in Washington. Bolstered by Oppenheimer’s influence, he decided to not sign the petition.[24]

Teller therefore penned a letter in response to Szilard that read.[25]
...I am not really convinced of your objections. I do not feel that there is any chance to outlaw any one weapon. If we have a slim chance of survival, it lies in the possibility to get rid of wars. The more decisive a weapon is the more surely it will be used in any real conflict and no agreements will help. Our only hope is in getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help to convince everybody that the next war would be fatal. For this purpose actual combat-use might even be the best thing.
On reflection on this letter years later when he was writing his memoirs, Teller wrote.[26]
First, Szilard was right. As scientists who worked on producing the bomb, we bore a special responsibility. Second, Oppenheimer was right. We did not know enough about the political situation to have a valid opinion. Third, what we should have done but failed to do was to work out the technical changes required for demonstrating the bomb [very high] over Tokyo and submit that information to President Truman.

Unknown to Teller at the time, four of his colleagues were solicited by the then secret May to June 1945

  • Annotated Bibliography for Edward Teller from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
  • LLNL's Edward Teller page
  • LLNL Interview with Edward Teller
  • "Edward Teller's Role in the Oppenheimer Hearings" interview with Richard Rhodes
  • Edward Teller's FBI file – Outlines years of FBI agents trying to establish whether or not he was the same person as another Edward Teller who taught at a Marxist school in New York.
  • Video excerpts from a televised debate between Edward Teller and Linus Pauling, titled "Fallout and Disarmament," February 20, 1958
  • Excerpts from the Transcript of the Teller-Szilard debates on "Camera Three" CBS television program June 3 and 10 1962. Contained in "Toward a Livable World: Leo Szilard".
  • A rare photo of Szilard and Teller together, from the 1960s televised debates they participated in.
  • Edward Teller Biographical memoir of Teller by Freeman Dyson, released by the National Academy of Sciences.
  • A radio interview with Edward Teller Aired on the Lewis Burke Frumkes Radio Show in January 1988.
  • The Paternity of the H-Bombs: Soviet-American Perspectives
  • Edward Teller tells his life story at Web of Stories (video)
  • Lasers '87Edward Teller speaks at

External links

References to Teller in Other Writings

  • William J. Broad, Teller's war: the top-secret story behind the Star Wars deception (Simon & Schuster, 1992).
  • Gregg Herken, Brotherhood of the bomb: the tangled lives and loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence (Henry Holt, 2002).
  • Peter Goodchild, Edward Teller: the real Dr. Strangelove (Harvard University Press, 2005).
  • Stanley A. Blumberg and Louis G. Panos. Edward Teller : giant of the golden age of physics; a biography (Scribner's, 1990)
  • Istvan Hargittai, Judging Edward Teller: a closer look at one of the most influential scientists of the twentieth century (Prometheus, 2010).

Books about Teller

  • Our Nuclear Future; Facts, Dangers, and Opportunities (1958)
  • Basic Concepts of Physics (1960)
  • The Legacy of Hiroshima (1962)
  • The constructive uses of nuclear explosions. (1968)
  • Energy from Heaven and Earth (1979)
  • The Pursuit of Simplicity (1980)
  • Better a Shield Than a Sword: Perspectives on Defense and Technology (1987)
  • Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics (1991)
  • Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001)

Written by Teller

Further reading

  • Broad, William J. Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0-671-70106-1.
  • Herken, Gregg. Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. New York: Henry Holt, 2002. ISBN 0-8050-6588-1.
  • Goncharov, German (2005). "The extraordinarily beautiful physical principle of thermonuclear charge design (on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the test of RDS-37 — the first Soviet two-stage thermonuclear charge". Physics-Uspekhi 48 (11): 1187–1196.   Russian text (free download)
  • O'Neill, Dan. The Firecracker Boys. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. ISBN 0-312-11086-3.
  • Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-684-80400-X.
  • Teller, Edward, with Judith L. Shoolery. Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7382-0532-X.
  • Blumberg, Stanley; Louis Panos (1990). Edward Teller: Giant of The Golden Age of Physics. New York:  

Herken (2002) is the source where not otherwise indicated.


  1. ^ a b Hoddeson, Lillian (1993). "Setting up Project Y: June 1942 to March 1943". Critical Assembly: A Technical History of Los Alamos During the Oppenheimer Years, 1943–1945. Cambridge, U.K.:  
  2. ^ Heilbron, ed. by J. L. (2005). "Edward Teller". The Oxford guide to the history of physics and astronomy. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 286–290.  
  3. ^ Academies, National Academy of Engineering, National Research Council of the National (2003). "Biographies". The carbon dioxide dilemma : promising technologies and policies ; proceedings of a symposium, April 23–24, 2002.. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. pp. 129–140 [135].  
  4. ^ "I have always considered that description in poor taste." (Teller, Memoirs, p. 546.)
  5. ^ a b Goodchild 2005, p. 36.
  6. ^ a b  
  7. ^ "Edward Teller Is Dead at 95; Fierce Architect of H-Bomb". The New York Times. September 10, 2003. 
  8. ^ Edward Teller (2002). Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey In Science And Politics.  
  9. ^ Video in which Teller recalls his earliest memories on YouTube
  10. ^ a b c  
  11. ^ Glimpses of an exceptional man
  12. ^ Teller, Memoirs, p. 80; see also "Interview with Edward Teller, part 40. Going to Rome with Placzek to visit Fermi". Peoples Archive. 
  13. ^ Journal of the American Chemical Society, 60 (2) , pp. 309–319 (1938).
  14. ^ For Teller's academic career through 1941, see either Goodchild 2005, chapters 3 to 5, or Blumberg and Panos 1990, chapters 3 to 5; also ANB George Gamow. (The ANB has not been updated since Teller's death.) For his own account, see Teller, Memoirs, chapters 6 to 14.
  15. ^ Rhodes 1995; Herken 2002.
  16. ^ Hughes, Colin (2005). "The Real Edward Teller?". Logosonline. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  17. ^ Herken 2002.
  18. ^ a b c d e f Shurkin, Joel N (September 10, 2003). "Edward Teller, 'Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,' is dead at 95". Stanford Report (Stanford News Service). Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  19. ^ Atomic Heritage Foundation Robert F. Christy
  20. ^ Wellerstein, Alex. "Christy’s Gadget: Reflections on a death". Restricted data blog. Retrieved October 7, 2014. 
  21. ^ "'"Hans Bethe 94 - Help from the British, and the 'Christy Gadget. Web of Stories. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Constructing the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb". Web of Stories. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Edward Teller, RIP". The New Atlantis. Fall 2003. 
  24. ^ a b c d e Blumberg, Stanley; Louis Panos (1990). Edward Teller: Giant of The Golden Age of Physics. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 82, 83.  
  25. ^ Edward Teller to Leo Szilard (2 July 1945), copy in the J. Robert Oppenheimer papers (MS35188), Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Box 71, Folder, “Teller, Edward, 1942-1963
  26. ^ Edward Teller with Judith Schoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey in Science and Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 2001), pg 206
  27. ^ "Recommendations on the Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons by the Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee, June 16, 1945".  
  28. ^ Rhodes 1995, p. 255.
  29. ^ a b "About the lab:Edward Teller—A Life Dedicated to Science". Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. January 7, 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  30. ^ 8.2.1 Early Research on Fusion Weapons
  31. ^ Goncharov 2005.
  32. ^ a b  
  33. ^ Goncharov 2005
  34. ^ Rhodes 1995, pp. 461–472.
  35. ^ Gorelik 2009.
  36. ^  
  37. ^ a b c  
  38. ^ Carlson, Bengt (July–August 2003). "How Ulam set the stage". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 59 (4): 46–51.  
  39. ^ Ulam, Stanislaw (1976). Adventures of a Mathematician. Scribner. p. 220.  
  40. ^ a b Rhodes 1995.
  41. ^ Thorpe, Charles (2006). Oppenheimer: The Tragic Intellect. University of Chicago Press. p. 106.  
  42. ^ Gorelik 2009
  43. ^ Teller, Memoirs, p. 407, fn. 6.
  44. ^ Uchii, Soshichi (2003-07-22). "Review of Edward Teller's Memoirs". PHS Newsletter 52. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  45. ^ Bethe, Hans A. (1982). "Comments on The History of the H-Bomb" (PDF). Los Alamos Science 3 (3): 47. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  46. ^ Herken 2002: Fermi on p. 25, Ulam on p. 137
  47. ^ 3. Credit – or blame? whyfiles.org
  48. ^ a b c Lennick, Michael. "A Final Interview with Edward Teller", American Heritage, June/July 2005.
  49. ^ Teller, Edward (April 28, 1954). "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer: Transcript of Hearing Before Personnel Security Board". pbs.org. United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  50. ^ "William J. Broad "Transcripts Kept Secret for 60 years Bolster Defense of Oppenheimer's Loyalty" The New York Times Oct. 11, 2014.
  51. ^   Review of Edward Teller's Memoirs.
  52. ^ a b McMillan, Priscilla (2005). The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and The Birth of the Arms Race. Viking.  
  53. ^ | Richard Rhodes on: Edward Teller's Role in the Oppenheimer Hearings
  54. ^ Teller, Memoirs, ch. 22.
  55. ^ Teller, Memoirs, pp. 423–424.
  56. ^ "Rockefeller Report Calls for Meeting It With Better Military Setup, Sustained Will". Time magazine. January 13, 1958. 
  57. ^ Herken, p. 330.
  58. ^ "Hertz Foundation Makes US$1 Million Endowment in Honor of Edward Teller" (Press release). UC Davis News Service. 1999-06-14. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  59. ^ The Jefferson School of Philosophy, Economics, and Psychology (Address is P.O. Box)
  60. ^ Matthews, M.A. (Oct 8, 1959). "The Earth's Carbon Cycle". New Scientist 6: 644–6. 
  61. ^ O'Neill 1994.
  62. ^ O'Neill, Firecracker Boys, pp, 97, 111; Broad, Teller's War, p.48.
  63. ^ Loreto, Frank (2002-04-26). "Nuclear Dynamite"Review of 8 (17). CM Magazine. 
  64. ^ Clearwater, John (1998). "Canadian Nuclear Weapons". Dundurn Press (Toronto). 
  65. ^ Karpin, Michael (2005). The Bomb in the Basement. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. pp. 289–293.  
  66. ^ Gábor Palló (2000). "The Hungarian Phenomenon in Israeli Science". Hungarian Academy of Science 25 (1). Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  67. ^ Benny, Avni (6 May 2010). "Ghost of Edward Teller Haunts United Nations Nuclear Parley". The Sun, New York. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  68. ^ a b c d e f g Cohen, Avner (October 15, 1999). "The Battle over the NPT: America Learns the Truth". Israel and the bomb.. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 297–300.  
  69. ^ UPI (December 6, 1982). "Edward Teller in Israel To Advise on a Reactor". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  70. ^ Mark Brake, Neil Hook, , "Chapter 6: Information Wants to be Free: The Computer Age"Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science, [first page of chapter 6;] page number absent.
    Ben J. Wattenberg, Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism, p. 315.
    Peter Goodchild, Edward Teller, the Real Dr. Strangelove, p. 327.
    William J. Broad, Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception, p. 63
    Clive Hamilton, Requiem for a Species, first 2 pp. under heading "Geopolitics" [no page numbers given].
  71. ^ Peter Goodchild, Edward Teller, the Real Dr. Strangelove, p. 327.
  72. ^ http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1622.html
  73. ^ a b c Broad 1992.
  74. ^ Teller, Edward: Better a Shield than a Sword: Perspectives on Defense and Technology, The Free Press, New York, 1987 p. 57 ISBN 0-02-932461-0.
  75. ^ Essay Review-From the A-Bomb to Star Wars: Edward Teller's History. Better A Shield Than a Sword: Perspectives on Defense and Technology Technology and Culture, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Oct., 1990), p. 848
  76. ^ Teller, Memoirs, pp. 206–209.
  77. ^ Wang, C. P. (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Conference on Lasers '85 (STS, McLean, Va, 1986).
  78. ^ Duarte, F. J. (Ed.), Proceedings of the International Conference on Lasers '87 (STS, McLean, Va, 1988).
  79. ^ Jason Mick (October 17, 2013). "The mother of all bombs would sit in wait in an orbitary platform". 
  80. ^ He had suffered a stroke two days previous, and had long been suffering from a number of conditions related to his advanced age. Goodchild 2005, p. 394.
  81. ^ Glimpses of an exceptional man
  82. ^ This quote has been primarily attributed to Rabi in many news sources (see, e.g., McKie, Robin, Megaton megalomaniac, The Observer, May 2, 2004), but it has also in a few reputable sources been attributed to Hans Bethe (i.e. in the notes to the Epilogue in Herken 2002, note 40).
  83. ^ "Time Person of the year, 1960: U.S. Scientists". Time magazine. January 2, 1961. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  84. ^ "The Ames Astrogram: Teller visits Ames" (PDF). NASA. November 27, 2000. p. 6. Retrieved 2007-11-28. 
  85. ^ Motherboard TV: Doctor Teller's Strange Loves, from the Hydrogen Bomb to Thorium Energy
  86. ^ Moir, Ralph; Teller, Edward (2005). "Thorium-Fueled Underground Power Plant Based on Molten Salt Technology". Nuclear Technology (  PDF at the Wayback Machine (archived October 5, 2010)


  1. ^ Hamilton described a single-page "blaming" ad placed by Teller, sometime that year, in the NYT.


[86][85].liquid fluoride thorium reactor His final paper, published posthumously, advocated the construction of a prototype [18] In 1986, he was awarded the

Teller's vigorous advocacy for strength through nuclear weapons, especially when so many of his wartime colleagues later expressed regret about the arms race, made him an easy target for the "mad scientist" stereotype. In 1991 he was awarded one of the first Ig Nobel Prizes for Peace in recognition of his "lifelong efforts to change the meaning of peace as we know it". He was also rumored to be one of the inspirations for the character of Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 satirical film of the same name[18] (others speculated to be RAND theorist Herman Kahn, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara). In the aforementioned Scientific American interview from 1999, he was reported as having bristled at the question: "My name is not Strangelove. I don't know about Strangelove. I'm not interested in Strangelove. What else can I say?... Look. Say it three times more, and I throw you out of this office."[10] Nobel Prize winning physicist Isidor I. Rabi once suggested that "It would have been a better world without Teller."[82] In addition, Teller's false claims that Stanislaw Ulam made no significant contribution to the development of the hydrogen bomb (despite Ulam's key insights of using compression and staging elements to generate the thermonuclear reaction) and his personal attacks on Oppenheimer caused even greater animosity within the general physics community towards Teller.[52]

In his early career, Teller made contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy (the Jahn–Teller and Renner–Teller effects), and surface physics. His extension of Fermi's theory of beta decay (in the form of the so-called Gamow–Teller transitions) provided an important stepping stone in the applications of this theory. The Jahn–Teller effect and the BET theory have retained their original formulation and are still mainstays in physics and chemistry.[5] Teller also made contributions to Thomas–Fermi theory, the precursor of density functional theory, a standard modern tool in the quantum mechanical treatment of complex molecules. In 1953, along with Nicholas Metropolis and Marshall Rosenbluth, Teller co-authored a paper[6] which is a standard starting point for the applications of the Monte Carlo method to statistical mechanics.

A wish for his 100th birthday, made around the time of his 90th, was for Lawrence Livermore's scientists to give him "excellent predictions-calculations and experiments-about the interiors of the planets".[81]

Teller died in Stanford, California on September 9, 2003, at the age of 95.[18][80]

Appearing on television discussion After Dark in 1987
Edward Teller in his later years

Death and legacy

At a 1995 meeting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Calif., Edward Teller proposed to a collective of U.S. and Russian ex-Cold War weapons designers and space engineers the use of nuclear fusion warheads in diverting the paths of extinction event class asteroids. Edward Teller suggested the creation of an orbital platform for faster missile delivery. He further suggested the need for nuclear weapons more powerful than the Tsar Bomba for this purpose.[79]

Asteroid impact avoidance

In 1987 he published a book supporting civil defense and active protection systems such as SDI which was titled Better a shield than a sword and his views on the role of lasers in SDI, as disclosed in live panel discussions, were published, and are available, in two 1986-7 laser conference proceedings.[77][78]

Teller had used this quasi-anti-nuclear weapons stance (he would say that he believed nuclear weapons to be unfortunate, but that the arms race was unavoidable due to the intractable nature of Communism) to promote technologies such as SDI, arguing that they were needed to make sure that nuclear weapons could never be used again.

In 1990, the historian Barton Bernstein argued that it is an "unconvincing claim" by Teller that he was a "covert dissenter" to the use of the weapon.[75] In his 2001 Memoirs, Teller claims that he did lobby Oppenheimer, but that Oppenheimer had convinced him that he should take no action and that the scientists should leave military questions in the hands of the military; Teller claims he was not aware that Oppenheimer and other scientists were being consulted as to the actual use of the weapon and implies that Oppenheimer was being hypocritical.[76]

"...Our only hope is in getting the facts of our results before the people. This might help convince everybody the next war would be fatal. For this purpose, actual combat-use might even be the best thing."[74]

However contained in a 1987 book by Teller, a letter dated July 2, 1945 from Teller to Leó Szilárd states in part:

Despite (or perhaps because of) his hawkish reputation, Teller made a public point of noting that he regretted the use of the first atomic bombs on civilian cities during World War II. He further claimed that before the bombing of Hiroshima he had indeed lobbied Oppenheimer to use the weapons first in a "demonstration" which could be witnessed by the Japanese high-command and citizenry before using them to inflict thousands of deaths.

Many scientists opposed strategic defense on moral or political rather than purely technical grounds. They argued that, even if an effective system could be produced, it would undermine the system of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) that had prevented all-out war between the western democracies and the communist bloc. An effective defense, they contended, would make such a war "winnable" and therefore more likely.[73]

In the 1980s, Teller began a strong campaign for what was later called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), derided by critics as "Star Wars," the concept of using ground and satellite-based lasers, particle beams and missiles to destroy incoming Soviet ICBMs. Teller lobbied with government agencies—and got the approval of President Ronald Reagan—for a plan to develop a system using elaborate satellites which used atomic weapons to fire X-ray lasers at incoming missiles— as part of a broader scientific research program into defenses against nuclear weapons. Scandal erupted when Teller (and his associate Lowell Wood) were accused of deliberately overselling the program and perhaps had encouraged the dismissal of a laboratory director (Roy Woodruff) who had attempted to correct the error.[73] His claims led to a joke which circulated in the scientific community, that a new unit of unfounded optimism was designated as the teller; one teller was so large that most events had to be measured in nanotellers or picotellers. Many prominent scientists argued that the system was futile. Bethe, along with IBM physicist Richard Garwin and Cornell University colleague Kurt Gottfried, wrote an article in Scientific American which analyzed the system and concluded that any putative enemy could disable such a system by the use of suitable decoys. The project's funding was eventually scaled back.

Teller became a major lobbying force of the Strategic Defense Initiative to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Strategic Defense Initiative

The next day, The New York Times ran an editorial criticizing the ad, noting that it was sponsored by Dresser Industries, the firm that had manufactured one of the defective valves that contributed to the Three Mile Island accident.[73]

Teller suffered a heart attack in 1979, and many observers[70] described him as blaming it on Jane Fonda: She had starred in The China Syndrome, which depicted a fictional reactor accident and was released less than two weeks before the Three Mile Island accident. She spoke out against nuclear power while promoting the film. Teller acted quickly to lobby in favor of nuclear energy, testifying to its safety and reliability, and soon after one flurry of activity suffered the attack. He signed a two-page-spread ad in the July 31, 1979, Wall Street Journal[nb 1] with the headline "I was the only victim of Three-Mile Island".[71][72] It opened with:

Three Mile Island

In the 1980s, Teller again visited Israel to advise the Israeli government on building a nuclear reactor.[69] Three decades later, Teller confirmed that it was during his visits that he concluded that Israel was in possession of nuclear weapons.[68] After conveying the matter to the U.S. government, Teller reportedly said: "They [Israeli] have it, and they were clever enough to trust their research and not to test, they know that to test would get them into trouble."[68]

At each of his talks with members of the Israeli security establishment's highest levels, he would make them swear that they would never be tempted into signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[67] In 1967 when the Israeli nuclear program was nearing completion, Teller informed Neeman that he was going to tell the CIA that Israel had built nuclear weapons and explain that it was justified by the background of the Six-Day War.[68] After Neeman cleared it with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Teller briefed the head of the CIA's Office of Science and Technology, Carl Duckett.[68] It took a year for Teller to convince the CIA that Israel had obtained nuclear capability; the information then went through CIA Director Richard Helms and then to the US president at that time, Lyndon B. Johnson.[68] Teller also persuaded them to end the American attempts to inspect the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona.[68] Teller's personal opinion became factual assertion, when in 1976 Carl Duckett testified in Congress before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that after receiving information from "American scientist", he drafted a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Israel's nuclear capability.[68]

For some twenty years, Teller advised Israel on nuclear matters in general, and on the building of a hydrogen bomb in particular.[65] In 1952, Teller and Oppenheimer had a long meeting with David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv, telling him that the best way to accumulate plutonium was to burn natural uranium in a nuclear reactor. Starting in 1964, a connection between Teller and Israel was made by the physicist Yuval Neeman, who had similar political views. Between 1964 and 1967, Teller visited Israel six times, lecturing at Tel Aviv University, and advising the chiefs of Israel's scientific-security circle as well as prime ministers and cabinet members.[66]

Nuclear technology and Israel

A related experiment which also had Teller's endorsement was a plan to extract oil from the tar sands in northern Alberta with nuclear explosions, titled Project Oilsands. The plan actually received the endorsement of the Alberta government, but was rejected by the Government of Canada under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who was opposed to having any nuclear weapons in Canada, although Canada had nuclear weapons, from a US nuclear sharing agreement, from 1963 to 1984.[63][64]

Other scientists criticized the project as being potentially unsafe for the local wildlife and the Inupiat people living near the designated area, who were not officially told of the plan until March 1960.[62] Additionally, it turned out that the harbor would be ice-bound for nine months out of the year. In the end, due to the financial infeasibility of the project and the concerns over radiation-related health issues, the project was cancelled in 1962.

Teller was one of the strongest and best-known advocates for investigating non-military uses of nuclear explosives, which the United States explored under Operation Plowshare. One of the most controversial projects he proposed was a plan to use a multi-megaton hydrogen bomb to dig a deep-water harbor more than a mile long and half a mile wide to use for shipment of resources from coal and oil fields through Point Hope, Alaska. The Atomic Energy Commission accepted Teller's proposal in 1958 and it was designated Project Chariot. While the AEC was scouting out the Alaskan site, and having withdrawn the land from the public domain, Teller publicly advocated the economic benefits of the plan, but was unable to convince local government leaders that the plan was financially viable.[61]

One of the Chariot schemes involved chaining five thermonuclear devices to create the artificial harbor.

Operation Plowshare and Project Chariot

Teller was one of the first prominent people to raise the danger of climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels. At an address to the membership of the American Chemical Society in December 1957, Teller warned that the large amount of carbon-based fuel that had been burned since the mid-19th century was increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would (as a contemporary account of his comments summarized) "act in the same way as a greenhouse and will raise the temperature at the surface", and that he had calculated that if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 10% "an appreciable part of the polar ice might melt."[60]

Global Climate Change

After the fall of communism in Hungary in 1989, he made several visits to his country of origin, and paid careful attention to the political changes there. [59] Teller established the

He was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1958–1960), which he helped to found (along with Ernest O. Lawrence), and after that he continued as an Associate Director. He chaired the committee that founded the Space Sciences Laboratory at Berkeley. He also served concurrently as a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a tireless advocate of a strong nuclear program and argued for continued testing and development—in fact, he stepped down from the directorship of Livermore so that he could better lobby against the proposed test ban.[57] He testified against the test ban both before Congress as well as on television.

Teller promoted increased defense spending to counter the perceived Soviet missile threat. He was a signatory to the 1958 report by the military sub-panel of the Rockefeller Brothers funded Special Studies Project, which called for a $3 billion annual increase in America's military budget.[56]

Teller on television (1960) in an unspecified show

After the Oppenheimer controversy, Teller became ostracized by much of the scientific community, but was still quite welcome in the government and military science circles. Along with his traditional advocacy for nuclear energy development, a strong nuclear arsenal, and a vigorous nuclear testing program, he had helped to develop nuclear reactor safety standards as the chair of the Reactor Safeguard Committee of the AEC in the late 1940s,[54] and in the late 1950s headed an effort at General Atomics which designed research reactors in which a nuclear meltdown would be impossible (the TRIGA Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomic) which has been built and used at almost a hundreds hospitals and universities worldwide for Medical isotope production and research assistance.[55]

US Government work and political advocacy

Historian Richard Rhodes states that in his opinion it was already a foregone conclusion that Oppenheimer would have his security clearance revoked by then AEC head Lewis Strauss, regardless of Teller's testimony. However as Teller's testimony was the most damning, he was singled out and blamed for the hearing's ruling, losing friends due to it, such as Robert Christy who refused to shake his hand in one infamous incident. This was emblematic of his later treatment which resulted in him being forced into the role of an outcast of the physics community and thus leaving him little choice but to align himself with industrialists.[53]

Prior to the Oppenheimer controversy, Teller maintained a friendly relationship with Oppenheimer. When Leó Szilárd asked Teller to help circulate a petition that discourages The United States from using an atomic bomb on Japan unless Japan is made fully aware of the possibility of such an attack, he consulted Oppenheimer’s wisdom. Teller believed that Oppenheimer was a natural leader and could help him with such a formidable political problem.[24] Oppenheimer reassured Teller that the nation’s fate should be left to the sensible politicians in Washington. Bolstered by Oppenheimer’s influence, he decided to not sign the petition. However, Teller learned soon after his meeting that Oppenheimer conversely endorsed a political use of the super bomb. Following Teller’s discovery, his relationship with his advisor began to deteriorate.[24]

Teller always insisted that his testimony had not significantly harmed Oppenheimer. In 2002, Teller contended that Oppenheimer was "not destroyed" by the security hearing but "no longer asked to assist in policy matters." He claimed his words were an overreaction, because he had only just learned of Oppenheimer's failure to immediately report an approach by Haakon Chevalier, who had approached Oppenheimer to help the Russians. Teller said that, in hindsight, he would have responded differently.[48]

Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked after the hearings. Most of Teller's former colleagues disapproved of his testimony and he became ostracized by much of the scientific community.[48] After the fact, Teller consistently denied that he was intending to damn Oppenheimer, and even claimed that he was attempting to exonerate him. Documentary evidence has suggested that this was likely not the case, however. Six days before the testimony, Teller met with an AEC liaison officer and suggested "deepening the charges" in his testimony.[51] It has been suggested that Teller's testimony against Oppenheimer was an attempt to remove Oppenheimer from power so that Teller could become the leader of the American nuclear scientist community.[52]

By recasting a difference of judgment over the merits of the early work on the hydrogen bomb project into a matter of a security risk, Teller effectively damned Oppenheimer in a field where security was necessarily of paramount concern. Teller's testimony thereby rendered Oppenheimer vulnerable to charges by a Congressional aide that he was a Soviet spy, which resulted in the destruction of Oppenheimer's career. [50]

If it is a question of wisdom and judgment, as demonstrated by actions since 1945, then I would say one would be wiser not to grant clearance.[37]

After this, however, he detailed ways in which he felt that Oppenheimer had hindered his efforts towards an active thermonuclear development program, and at length criticized Oppenheimer's decisions not to invest more work onto the question at different points in his career, saying:

Teller also testified that Oppenheimer's opinion about the thermonuclear program seemed to be based more on the scientific feasibility of the weapon than anything else. He additionally testified that Oppenheimer's direction of Los Alamos was "a very outstanding achievement" both as a scientist and an administrator, lauding his "very quick mind" and that he made "just a most wonderful and excellent director."

In a great number of cases I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer act—I understood that Dr. Oppenheimer acted—in a way which for me was exceedingly hard to understand. I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated. To this extent I feel that I would like to see the vital interests of this country in hands which I understand better, and therefore trust more. In this very limited sense I would like to express a feeling that I would feel personally more secure if public matters would rest in other hands.[37]

However, he was immediately asked whether he believed that Oppenheimer was a "security risk", to which he testified:

I do not want to suggest anything of the kind. I know Oppenheimer as an intellectually most alert and a very complicated person, and I think it would be presumptuous and wrong on my part if I would try in any way to analyze his motives. But I have always assumed, and I now assume that he is loyal to the United States. I believe this, and I shall believe it until I see very conclusive proof to the opposite.[49]

Teller became controversial in 1954 when he testified against J. Robert Oppenheimer, a former head of Los Alamos and an advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission, at Oppenheimer's security clearance hearing. Teller had clashed with Oppenheimer many times at Los Alamos over issues relating both to fission and fusion research, and during Oppenheimer's trial he was the only member of the scientific community to state that Oppenheimer should not be granted security clearance.[48] Asked at the hearing by AEC attorney Roger Robb whether he was planning "to suggest that Dr. Oppenheimer is disloyal to the United States", Teller replied that:

Teller testified about J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1954.

Oppenheimer controversy

Carey Sublette of Nuclear Weapon Archive argues that Ulam came up with the radiation implosion compression design of thermonuclear weapons, but that on the other hand Teller has gotten little credit for being the first to propose fusion boosting in 1945, which is essential for miniaturization and reliability and is used in all of today's nuclear weapons.[47]

During the Manhattan Project, Teller also advocated the development of a bomb using uranium hydride, which many of his fellow theorists said would be unlikely to work. At Livermore, Teller continued work on the hydride bomb, and the result was a dud. Ulam once wrote to a colleague about an idea he had shared with Teller: "Edward is full of enthusiasm about these possibilities; this is perhaps an indication they will not work." Fermi once said that Teller was the only monomaniac he knew who had several manias.[46]

"Nobody will blame Teller because the calculations of 1946 were wrong, especially because adequate computing machines were not available at Los Alamos. But he was blamed at Los Alamos for leading the laboratory, and indeed the whole country, into an adventurous programme on the basis of calculations, which he himself must have known to have been very incomplete."[45]

Teller was known for getting engrossed in projects which were theoretically interesting but practically unfeasible (the classic "Super" was one such project.)[18] About his work on the hydrogen bomb, Bethe said:

Many of Teller's colleagues were irritated that he seemed to enjoy taking full credit for something he had only a part in, and in response, with encouragement from Enrico Fermi, Teller authored an article titled "The Work of Many People," which appeared in Science magazine in February 1955, emphasizing that he was not alone in the weapon's development. He would later write in his memoirs that he had told a "white lie" in the 1955 article in order to "soothe ruffled feelings", and claimed full credit for the invention.[43][44]

There was an opinion that by analyzing the fallout from this test, the Soviets (led in their H-bomb work by Andrei Sakharov) could have deciphered the new American design. However, this was later denied by the Soviet bomb researchers.[42] Because of official secrecy, little information about the bomb's development was released by the government, and press reports often attributed the entire weapon's design and development to Teller and his new Livermore Laboratory (when it was actually developed by Los Alamos).[32]

Though he had helped to come up with the design and had been a long-time proponent of the concept, Teller was not chosen to head the development project (his reputation of a thorny personality likely played a role in this). In 1952 he left Los Alamos and joined the newly established Livermore branch of the University of California Radiation Laboratory, which had been created largely through his urging. After the detonation of "Ivy Mike", the first thermonuclear weapon to utilize the Teller–Ulam configuration, on November 1, 1952, Teller became known in the press as the "father of the hydrogen bomb." Teller himself refrained from attending the test—he claimed not to feel welcome at the Pacific Proving Grounds—and instead saw its results on a seismograph in the basement of a hall in Berkeley.[40]

The 10.4 Mt "Ivy Mike" shot of 1952 appeared to vindicate Teller's long-time advocacy for the hydrogen bomb.

Whatever the actual components of the so-called Teller–Ulam design and the respective contributions of those who worked on it, after it was proposed it was immediately seen by the scientists working on the project as the answer which had been so long sought. Those who previously had doubted whether a fission-fusion bomb would be feasible at all were converted into believing that it was only a matter of time before both the USA and the USSR had developed multi-megaton weapons. Even Oppenheimer, who was originally opposed to the project, called the idea "technically sweet."[41]

The breakthrough—the details of which are still classified—was apparently the separation of the fission and fusion components of the weapons, and to use the X-rays produced by the fission bomb to first compress the fusion fuel (by process known as "radiation implosion") before igniting it. Ulam's idea seems to have been to use mechanical shock from the primary to encourage fusion in the secondary, while Teller quickly realized that X-rays from the primary would do the job much more symmetrically. Some members of the laboratory (J. Carson Mark in particular) later expressed the opinion that the idea to use the x-rays would have eventually occurred to anyone working on the physical processes involved, and that the obvious reason why Teller thought of it right away was because he was already working on the "Greenhouse" tests for the spring of 1951, in which the effect of x-rays from a fission bomb on a mixture of deuterium and tritium was going to be investigated.[40]

The issue is controversial. Bethe considered Teller's contribution to the invention of the H-bomb a true innovation as early as 1952,[36] and referred to his work as a "stroke of genius" in 1954.[37] In both cases, however, Bethe emphasized Teller's role as a way of stressing that the development of the H-bomb could not have been hastened by additional support or funding, and Teller greatly disagreed with Bethe's assessment. Other scientists (antagonistic to Teller, such as J. Carson Mark) have claimed that Teller would have never gotten any closer without the assistance of Ulam and others.[38] Ulam himself claimed that Teller only produced a "more generalized" version of Ulam's original design.[39]

"I contributed; Ulam did not. I'm sorry I had to answer it in this abrupt way. Ulam was rightly dissatisfied with an old approach. He came to me with a part of an idea which I already had worked out and had difficulty getting people to listen to. He was willing to sign a paper. When it then came to defending that paper and really putting work into it, he refused. He said, 'I don't believe in it.'"[10]

In an interview with Scientific American from 1999, Teller told the reporter:

In 1950, calculations by the Polish mathematician Stanislaw Ulam and his collaborator Cornelius Everett, along with confirmations by Fermi, had shown that not only was Teller's earlier estimate of the quantity of tritium needed for the H-bomb a low one, but that even with higher amounts of tritium, the energy loss in the fusion process would be too great to enable the fusion reaction to propagate. However, in 1951 Teller and Ulam made a breakthrough, and invented a new design, proposed in a classified March 1951 paper, On Heterocatalytic Detonations I: Hydrodynamic Lenses and Radiation Mirrors, for a practical megaton-range H-bomb. The exact contribution provided respectively from Ulam and Teller to what became known as the Teller–Ulam design is not definitively known in the public domain, and the exact contributions of each and how the final idea was arrived upon has been a point of dispute in both public and classified discussions since the early 1950s.[34][35]

By 1949 Soviet backed Communist governments had already begun seizing control throughout Eastern Europe, forming such puppet states as the Hungarian People's Republic on 20 August 1949, this was Teller's homeland of Hungary, where much of his family still lived.[30] Following the Soviet Union's first test detonation of an atomic bomb on 29 August 1949, President Truman announced a crash development program for a hydrogen bomb. Teller returned to Los Alamos in 1950 to work on the project. He insisted on involving more theorists, such as Klaus Fuchs; it was Fuchs who together with John von Neumann later claimed to invent compression by means of radiation implosion back in 1946.[31] However many of Teller's prominent colleagues, like Bethe and Oppenheimer, were sure that the project of the H-bomb was technically infeasible and politically undesirable. None of the available designs were yet workable. However Soviet scientists who had worked on their own hydrogen bomb have claimed that they developed it independently.[32][33]

The Teller–Ulam design kept the fission and fusion fuel physically separated from one another, and used X-rays from the primary device "reflected" off the surrounding casing to compress the secondary.
Classified paper by Teller and Ulam on March 9, 1951: On Heterocatalytic Detonations I: Hydrodynamic Lenses and Radiation Mirrors, in which they proposed their revolutionary new design, staged implosion, the secret of the hydrogen bomb.

Hydrogen bomb

In 1946, Teller left Los Alamos to return to the University of Chicago as a professor and close associate of Enrico Fermi and Maria Mayer.[29]

In 1946, Teller participated in a conference in which the properties of thermonuclear fuels such as deuterium and the possible design of a hydrogen bomb were discussed. It was concluded that Teller's assessment of a hydrogen bomb had been too favourable, and that both the quantity of deuterium needed, as well as the radiation losses during deuterium burning, would shed doubt on its workability. Addition of expensive tritium to the thermonuclear mixture would likely lower its ignition temperature, but even so, nobody knew at that time how much tritium would be needed, and whether even tritium addition would encourage heat propagation. At the end of the conference, in spite of opposition by some members such as Robert Serber, Teller submitted an unduly optimistic report in which he said that a hydrogen bomb was feasible, and that further work should be encouraged on its development. Fuchs had also participated in this conference, and transmitted this information to Moscow. The model of Teller's "classical Super" was so uncertain that Oppenheimer would later say that he wished the Russians were building their own hydrogen bomb based on that design, so that it would almost certainly retard their progress on it.[28]

Post Manhattan days

Teller later learned of Oppenheimer's solicitation, and his role in the Interim Committees decision to drop the bombs, having secretly endorsed an immediate military use of the new weapons. This was contrary to the impression that Teller had received when he had personally asked Oppenheimer about the Szilard petition - that the nation’s fate should be left to the sensible politicians in Washington - following Teller’s discovery of this, his relationship with his advisor began to deteriorate.[24]

[27]The opinions of our scientific colleagues on the initial use of these weapons are not unanimous: they range from the proposal of a purely technical demonstration to that of the military application best designed to induce surrender...Others emphasize the opportunity of saving American lives by immediate military use...We find ourselves closer to these latter views; we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use.