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Contact: Susan Houghton
Phone: (925) 422-9919
E-mail: houghton3@llnl.gov
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 9, 2003
NR-03-09-01

DIRECTOR EMERITUS EDWARD TELLER, DISTINGUISHED PHYSICIST AND EDUCATION ADVOCATE, DIES AT 95

Dr. Edward Teller, world-renowned physicist, co-founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a lifelong advocate for education, died Tuesday, September 9, 2003. He was 95.

Teller died in his home, located on the Stanford University campus. He had suffered a stroke a few days ago.
Less than two months ago, Teller was awarded the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, during a special ceremony presided by President Bush.

Though Teller could not attend that ceremony — his daughter Wendy accepted on his behalf — Teller 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 the right way,” he said, humbled by the award. “Thus the medal is a great blessing for me.”

“The loss of Dr. Edward Teller is a great loss for this Laboratory and for the nation,” said Michael Anastasio, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “He was a passionate advocate for science and the development of Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He put his heart and soul into this Laboratory and into ensuring the security of this nation, and his dedication never foundered.”

“Dr. Teller will long be remembered as one of the most distinguished individuals in science. He devoted his life to preserving freedom, pursuing new knowledge and passing along his passion for science and engineering education to students of all ages.”

“On behalf of all employees at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, we send our deepest condolences to Dr. Teller's family. We will miss his enthusiasm and insight, his humor and passion and the optimism he had for the future.”

“Edward Teller was one of the world’s leading scientific minds of the 20th century, and he made a major contribution to the security of our nation and world peace,” said University of California President Richard C. Atkinson. “It has been a great honor for the University of California to be identified with him and to have had him as a member of our community and a key leader in the national laboratories."

Throughout his long life Teller often found himself at the forefront of the some of the 20th century’s most dramatic and history-making events.

Born into a middle-class lawyer’s family in Budapest, Hungary in 1908, 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. In February 1934, he married “Mici” (Augusta Maria) Harkanyi, the sister of a longtime friend.

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.

Prior to the announcement to the scientific community of the discovery of fission in 1939, Teller’s research was entirely theoretical and had a wholly basic-science character. President Franklin Roosevelt’s call-to-arms to the American scientific community as war broke out in Europe profoundly affected Teller, and he become involved in the applied nuclear physics studies then centered at Columbia University. It was Teller who drove Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner to Albert Einstein’s summer home on Long Island in 1939, where Einstein signed a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to pursue atomic weapons research before the Nazis could preempt the field.

In recollections, Teller quipped that he suspected that the only reason he became a part of the trio urging Einstein to advise Roosevelt urgently to take action was “because I was the only one who knew how to drive and had a car to get us there.” A half-year later, Teller personally pleaded successfully with the government for an initial grant of $6,000 in support of Fermi’s nuclear reactor-directed studies at Columbia, which action served to launch what grew into the Manhattan Project.

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. It was Teller who strongly advocated maximally vigorous development of thermonuclear weaponry, epitomized by his famous, then-seemingly absurd promise to realize a warhead that could be launched on a long-range missile carried by a submarine. In later years, Teller loved to relate how his outraged Livermore subordinates initially insisted that he retract the promise, but then went on to swiftly develop a warhead of far more outstanding specifications than he has promised. 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.

He taught physics at the University of California, then created and chaired the Department of Applied Science at UC Davis’ Livermore site.

In 1975 he was named Director Emeritus of the Lab by the University of California, and was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, positions that he held until his death. In the 1980s Teller 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 has received numerous awards for his contributions to physics, his dedication to education and his public life. He has 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 and several grandchildren. His wife of 66 years died three years ago.

Despite his distinguished life, Teller always remained humble in his accomplishments.

“What I did, I did because it was necessary, not to be remembered. The little contributions I made in pure science…I am proud of those. And whomever wants to remember that, fine,” he said.

For complete details on Teller’s life, see the Website at www.llnl.gov .


Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory, with a mission to ensure national security and apply science and technology to the important issues of our time. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Laboratory news releases and photos are also available electronically on the World Wide Web of the Internet at URL http://www.llnl.gov/PAO and on UC Newswire.


Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory that develops science and engineering technology and provides innovative solutions to our nation's most important challenges. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.