Edward Teller

Still Shaking Up Science Today · For the Love of Science · Centennial Highlights
Biographical Sketch · Resources with Additional Information

Edward Teller, Director of LLNL
1958 - 1960

Edward Teller, 1958
Courtesy of Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory (LLNL)

Still Shaking Up Science Today

'There is little doubt that Edward Teller is one of the towering figures of 20th-century physics. … Although his early training was in chemical physics and spectroscopy, Teller has made substantial contributions to such diverse fields as nuclear physics, plasma physics, astrophysics, and statistical mechanics. Lawrence Livermore [National Laboratory] physicist Mort Weiss, a close friend, has written: "His work has shaped the nature of nuclear physics research and has left an indelible impression on that field. His wide-ranging, questing, and tenacious approach to research, not only in nuclear physics but in many other fields as well, has inspired generations of nuclear physicists." …

Longtime Livermore colleague Lowell Wood notes that there are many generalists who know a little about many things, but "Edward knows a lot about everything." Because Teller is expert in so many fields, he sees connections and relationships between disciplines. …"

Over the past few years [1998 and prior], Teller's concern for the planet has grown to devising ingenious fixes for possible environmental crises. He was the lead author of a paper presented at an international conference in Italy … that outlined technological responses to drastic climate changes. … [T]he paper discusses prospects for "physics-based modulation" of sudden plunges in temperatures, similar to those in the past that resulted in mini ice ages.' 1


For the Love of Science

'Best known as a scientist and proponent of sometimes controversial ideas, Edward Teller is also a self-confessed teaching addict. Among the less controversial of his opinions is that this country needs more intensive science education to develop scientists and engineers of the future. He has done everything he can personally to see that students of all ages learn about and appreciate science. …

From the first, Teller developed a reputation as an outstanding lecturer, always able to explain complex issues in simple terms and to synthesize myriad ideas. At the University of California at Berkeley, he taught a physics course to nonscience majors so popular that hundreds of students had to be turned away.

He recognized that an appreciation of science among nonscientists is as important as the creation of new scientists.' 1


Teller Centennial Highlights2

From Sound Waves to Stars: Teller's Contributions to Shock Physics - "Science & Technology Review" March 2007

A Search for Patterns and Connections: Highlights of Teller's Contributions to Computational and Mathematical Physics - "Science & Technology Review" April 2007

Exchanging Insights on Quantum Behavior: Teller's Contributions to Condensed-Matter Physics - "Science & Technology Review" May 2007

A Gifted Teacher of Applied and Fundamental Physics: Highlights of Teller's Contributions to Education - "Science & Technology Review" June 2007

Taking on the Stars: Teller's Contributions to Plasma and Space Physics - "Science & Technology Review" July/August 2007

From Fission to Fusion and Beyond: Teller's Contributions to Applied Physics and Defense - "Science & Technology Review" September 2007

Back to Basics: Teller's Contributions to Atomic and Molecular Physics - "Science & Technology Review" October 2007

Probing Deep into the Nucleus: Teller's Contributions to Nuclear and Particle Physics - "Science & Technology Review" November 2007

Power to the People: Teller's Contributions to Nuclear Power Research - "Science & Technology Review" December 2007

Edward Teller's Centennial: Celebrating the Man and His Vision - "Science & Technology Review" January/February 2008

The Edward Teller Centennial - "Science & Technology Review" January/February 2008


Biographical Sketch

'Born into a middle-class lawyer’s family in Budapest, Hungary in 1908, Edward Teller was educated at the famous high school that also graduated John von Neumann, Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, and then took a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. With the rise of the Nazis, he left Germany, and from 1933–34 he participated in developing the new quantum physics in Copenhagen as a postdoctoral fellow, in the celebrated school of Niels Bohr. … After a period teaching at London City College in 1934, he was appointed Professor of Physics at George Washington University in Washington, DC in 1935, where he continued to work until 1941. …

In 1943, Teller went to work on the Manhattan Project at the fledgling Los Alamos National Laboratory and eventually became assistant director. From 1949-50 he concentrated on the hydrogen bomb and contributing to the decision to make the thermonuclear reaction a major part of the U.S. defense program.

His advocacy of competition in the national interest to ensure excellence in nuclear developments led to creation of the Livermore site of what was then called the University of California Radiation Laboratory in 1952, now the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. … Teller served as Laboratory Director at Livermore for two years in the late ‘50s and thereafter as Associate Director for physics until his retirement in 1975. … In 1975 he was named Director Emeritus of the Lab … and was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, positions that he held until his death [on September 9, 2003 at the age of 95].' 3

Dr. Teller received the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil honor, on July 23, 2003; the Gold Award, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham on November 26, 2002; and the Fermi Award in 1962. Other awards received by Dr. Teller include the Albert Einstein Award in 1958 and the National Medal of Science in 1982

1Edited excerpt from "Science and Technology Review", July-August 1998: Celebrating Edward Teller at 90 PDF HTML
2Series of articles honoring Edward Teller's life and contributions to science from "Science and Technology Review"
3Edited excerpt from Director Emeritus Edward Teller, Distinguished Physicist and Education Advocate …


Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Edward Teller and his research is available in DOE documents and on the Web.


Critical Amounts of Uranium Compounds, DOE Technical Report, March 1943

Critical Dimensions of Water-tamped Slabs and Spheres of Active Material, DOE Technical Report, August 1946

Equations of State of Elements Based on the Generalized Fermi-Thomas Theory, DOE Technical Report, April 1947

Proton Distribution in Heavy Nuclei, DOE Technical Report, November 1953

Peaceful Uses of Fusion, DOE Technical Report, July 1958

Plowshare, DOE Technical Report, February 1963

Jahn-Teller Effect: Its History and Applicability, DOE Technical Report, August 1981


Documents about Climate Change and Global Warming


Additional Web Pages:

Edward Teller: A Life Dedicated to Science

The Teller Century, Science & Technology Review, January/February 2008

Edward Teller Award

"Established in 1999 by the Fusion Energy Division, this award recognizes pioneering research and leadership in the use of laser and ion-particle beams to produce unique high-temperature and high-density matter for scientific research and for controlled thermonuclear fusion."
– Excerpt from American Nuclear Society (ANS) Honors and Awards

Edward Teller Education Center (ETEC) – University of California, Livermore


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