Teller, Edward

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Teller, Edward

Edward Teller, 1908–2003, American physicist, b. Budapest, Hungary, Ph.D. Univ. of Leipzig, 1930, where he studied under Werner Heisenberg. Fleeing the Nazis, he came to the United States in 1935 and was naturalized in 1941. He was (1935–41) a professor of physics at George Washington Univ. and during World War II he worked on atomic bomb research at a number of facilities. Later he was (1946–52) professor of physics at the Univ. of Chicago. He was also associated (1949–51) with the thermonuclear research program of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. From 1952, Teller was professor of physics at the Univ. of California and director of the Livermore division of its radiation laboratory. In 1960 he resigned from his laboratory post to devote his time to teaching and research; he retired in 1975.

Teller worked on the physics of the hydrogen bomb from 1941 forward and was instrumental in making possible the first successful U.S. explosion of the device on Nov. 1, 1952. Robert Oppenheimer had opposed the develop of the bomb on technical and moral grounds, and Teller later publicly called (1954) for his colleague's removal from positions involving national security, an act that alienated many within the scientific community. Teller received the 1962 Enrico Fermi Award For his contributions to the development, use, and control of nuclear energy; in 2003 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Teller, who distrusted arms control, was a supporter of a nuclear-powered X-ray laser missile defense system and a major proponent of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. His writings include The Legacy of Hiroshima (with Allen Brown, 1962), The Constructive Uses of Nuclear Explosives (with others, 1968), and Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics (2001).

See biography by P. Goodchild (2005); G. Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb (2002).

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