WHEN we began making plans to celebrate Edward Teller's 90th birthday, I asked him if he would give a talk to the Laboratory. We discussed it and agreed he would give two talks, the first to a small group at lunch, and then an address in the auditorium that would also be televised throughout the Laboratory. These events would be followed by a dinner and remarks the next evening at the Stanford University Faculty Club, near the Hoover Institution, where he now spends the other half of his professional life. All of us who participated in this sequence of activities will remember and cherish them as remarkable for a scientist of any age, but simply astonishing for someone entering his tenth decade.|
At his birthday lunch, Dr. Teller reflected on the nature of scientific inquiry, as contrasted with artistic value or moral purpose. It was a particularly interesting talk because he illustrated it with anecdotes from his student days, including a memorable conversation with Niels Bohr. As he has so often in his life, he concluded by arguing strongly that knowledge be pursued as vigorously as possible, its applications sought, and both the knowledge and applications described to everyone so that decisions could then be made about their use.
In his speech to the Laboratory, "More Science in Livermore," Dr. Teller reflected on the Laboratory and on what it might do in the future. After remarking, "The Laboratory is the one thing in my life I am completely happy about," he briefly described three specific contributions of the Laboratory that had really major importance.
The first contribution was the introduction of very large computers into the scientific enterprise and our leadership in this area for many years (and again today, I'm happy to say). The second was the development of nuclear weapons that could be carried by submarines-a very difficult technical achievement, and one that changed the calculus of the Cold War because it effectively negated the advantage of a first strike (by either side). Finally, there was the work on strategic defense, which he (and many others) believe led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Looking to the future, Dr. Teller enthralled the audience by describing in some detail a particular area of research that should be possible with the National Ignition Facility currently under construction. Specifically, we should be able to create matter at very high pressures and (relatively) low temperatures, leading to an entirely new domain for laboratory physics as well as exploring much of planetary and astrophysics.
These two talks and their main themes are indicative of the intensity and diversity of Dr. Teller's extraordinary contributions as a scientist. At his birthday dinner at Stanford, I said the best gift we could offer him was to continue to pursue knowledge and its applications as vigorously as possible at the Laboratory and to focus on the future, not the past. The one tangible gift is this issue of Science and Technology Review, not as a memorial, but as a guide to the life of one of the most original and important figures of the 20th century.
Happy Birthday, Edward.