Edward Teller

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Physicist known as the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb,” born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1908. Teller earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Leipzig in Germany, where he studied under Werner Heisenberg, the future leader of Hitler’s atomic-bomb program. He immigrated to the United States in 1935 and began a long teaching career.

At George Washington University, he collaborated with George Gamow in classifications of rules for beta decay and applications of astrophysics to controlled thermonuclear reactions. In 1939, Teller and fellow Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard recruited Albert Einstein to convince President Roosevelt of the need to develop American nuclear weapons.

Teller worked on the Manhattan project, a military endeavor to construct the atomic bomb for wartime use. After the war, Teller intensified his work on the even more powerful hydrogen (or “fusion”) bomb, which he dubbed the “Super.” On January 31, 1950, President Truman authorized the development and testing of the H-bomb, which culminated in the first test in 1952 at Enewetak, one of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The same year, Teller left the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory to direct the University of California’s Livermore Radiation Laboratory, where he continued his fusion experiments.

In 1954 Teller testified against his former Los Alamos co-worker, the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, an accused Communist sympathizer. Teller was vehemently opposed to Communism and may have held a grudge against Oppenheimer, who opposed the production of the hydrogen bomb, Teller’s brainchild.

Throughout his career as a physicist, professor, and government adviser, Teller was an advocate of defensive atomic weaponry and often found himself engaged in controversies. He was a major proponent of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, particularly of the use of nuclear-powered X-ray lasers for missile defense, an approach that was abandoned in 1992.