DR. Edward Teller, world-renowned
physicist, co-founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,
and a lifelong
advocate for education, died September 9, 2003. He was 95.
“The loss of Dr. Edward Teller is a great loss for this Laboratory and
for the nation,” said Livermore Director Michael Anastasio. “He was
a passionate advocate for science, for technology, for education, and for Lawrence
Livermore National Lab. He put his heart and soul into this Laboratory and into
ensuring the security of this nation, and his intense dedication never wavered.”
Since he embarked on his scientific career, Teller’s life has intertwined
with myriad heads of state, dignitaries, and other elected officials. He met
with every U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as with Pope John
Less than two months before his death, Teller was awarded the Presidential Medal
of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil honor, during a special ceremony
conducted by President George W. Bush at the White House.
Although Teller could not attend that ceremony—his daughter Wendy accepted
the medal on his behalf—he was touched by the honor. “In my long
life, I had to face some difficult decisions and found myself often in doubt
whether I acted in the right way,” he said, commenting on the award. “Thus,
receiving the medal is a great blessing for me.”
Throughout his long life, Teller often found himself at the forefront of some
of the 20th century’s most dramatic and history-making endeavors. Born
in Budapest, Hungary, in 1908, Teller received a Ph.D. in physics at the University
of Leipzig. It was Teller who drove Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner to meet with
Albert Einstein, who together would write a letter to President Roosevelt urging
him to pursue atomic weapons research before the Nazis did.
Teller went on to work on the Manhattan Project at the fledgling Los Alamos National
Laboratory and eventually became assistant director. His efforts were instrumental
in creating the Livermore site of the University of California Radiation Laboratory
in 1952. Teller strongly advocated development of the hydrogen bomb and promised
and delivered a submarine-launched nuclear weapons system. He served as director
at Livermore for two years and then as associate director for physics.
“I always think
of Edward Teller as a passionately patriotic American with a deep Hungarian accent
and a dry sense of humor,” said Duane Sewell, a
Teller colleague and friend for more than 50 years. “He was committed to
doing every thing in his power to create a strong America, and in my eyes, he
went a long way toward achieving his goal. In my eyes he was a kind, caring human
To Teller, science and education always went hand in hand. He taught physics
at the University of California (UC), then created and chaired the UC Davis Department
of Applied Science, which is located at the Livermore site.
He often admitted that knowledge was dangerous, but warned that ignorance “can
be incomparably more dangerous.” He was an advocate for education, believing
that education was vital to the U.S. if the nation is to maintain its leadership
role in the world.
In 1975, Teller was named Director Emeritus of the Laboratory and was also appointed
Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. In the 1980s, he served as
a determined advocate for the development of a ballistic missile defense system
to protect the nation from nuclear attack. These efforts contributed to the end
of the Cold War.
Teller received numerous awards for his contributions to physics, his dedication
to education, and his public life. He published more than a dozen books on subjects
ranging from energy policy and defense issues to his own memoirs.
Teller is survived by his son Paul, daughter Wendy, four grandchildren, and one
great grandchild. His wife of 66 years, Mici, died three years ago.
“Dr. Teller will long be remembered as one of the most distinguished individuals
in science,” says Anastasio. “He devoted his life to preserving freedom,
pursuing new knowledge, and passing along his passion for science and technology
to students of all ages. We will greatly miss his enthusiasm and insight, his
humor and passion, and the optimism he had for the future.”
For further information on Dr. Teller's life, see the Laboratory's
Edward Teller Web site.
a printer-friendly version of this article.