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.
His belief in education and the exchange of information is so strong that since the 1940s, he has fought the secrecy that shrouds most defense-related scientific work by the government. He instead encourages openness and a sharing of ideas with the public and with other scientists around the world. By nature friendly and gregarious, Teller thrives on the free exchange of ideas and thoughts and believes that science as a whole thrives on openness. Moreover, he believes that while secrecy is not compatible with science, it is even less compatible with democratic procedure. His years in Europe, particularly Germany around 1930, perhaps demonstrated to him the importance of free speech.





Ever the Teacher
During an interview on the occasion of his 90th birthday, Teller was asked what scientists could do to help the public overcome their suspicions about new technology and science. "It is not up to the scientists," Teller responded. "It is up to teachers. A good teacher does not have to be someone who deeply understands his subject. A good teacher is someone who can transfer the love he or she has for the subject to students."
A teacher for over 60 years, Teller always hopes that his students will come to share his love for science. He has long been concerned that not enough young men and women are choosing science as a career, so he has made every effort to educate and inspire young scientists. His teaching career began at London City College in 1934 and continued at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., the University of Chicago, and several campuses of the University of California, where he holds the title of University Professor Emeritus.
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. In fact, science appreciation is so important to Teller that he devoted an entire chapter to the subject in his 1987 book, Better a Shield than a Sword.
In recent years, he has enjoyed reaching out to high school and elementary school students to stimulate their interest in science. In 1990, at 82, he taught a weekly class in physics to Livermore-area high school students and their teachers and parents. During the early 1990s, he continued to speak several times a year to area students. In 1996, his soft spot for youngsters interested in science was still apparent in an interview he granted to a seventh grader researching the Manhattan Project.

Creating a New Department
Teller began his career as a theoretical physicist interested in pure science. But after his work on the Manhattan Project during World War II, he was increasingly involved in its applications. Over the years, he grew concerned that our universities were strong in the pure sciences and engineering but not in the "gap" in between. After the establishment of Livermore Laboratory in 1952, he found that new employees were good scientists but often had little or no training in how science could be applied.
In 1960, Teller formally proposed establishing a Department of Applied Science as part of the University of California. The department would be located at Livermore and offer M.S. and Ph.D. candidates science instruction as well as hands-on experience with projects under way at Livermore.
This dream became reality when the first class entered in the fall of 1963. Organized as a unit of the College of Engineering at the University of California at Davis, the department, with Teller as its first chairman, offered M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in engineering. The program was designed to create an atmosphere where boundaries between science and engineering are subordinated, and engineering is fully integrated with mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
Hans Mark, the son of a colleague of Teller's, has had a particularly close relationship with Teller and with the new department. In 1955, Teller convinced Hans Mark to join the Laboratory, where he became a division leader in experimental physics while also teaching at the Department of Applied Science and at Berkeley. He moved on to become the founding chairman of Berkeley's Department of Nuclear Engineering and to serve in many prestigious technical positions across the country. Most recently, Mark was named director of Defense Research and Engineering for the Department of Defense.
Teller and Mark have served for years as members of the board of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, which has been instrumental in the growth of the Department of Applied Sciences at Livermore. In the late 1970s, the foundation and the University's Science Fund made matching $500,000 donations that were used to build a permanent teaching facility at Livermore. The foundation sponsors a hundred fellowships a year at various university levels in the fields of mechanical and electrical engineering, as it has since its establishment in 1958.
Today, the Department of Applied Science offers a five-year Ph.D. program to a student body of 90. The majority of the students also work at Livermore while taking classes. Fourteen faculty members hold joint appointments at UC Davis and Lawrence Livermore. Other than Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Livermore is the only laboratory with such a close relationship to a university.
At the dedication of the permanent teaching facility at Livermore in 1977, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller commended Teller, saying that he had "spoken against the times when he suggested [establishing] an applied science school at one of the leading centers of high technology in the country, but to its credit, one of the world's leading institutions, the University of California, acted on the proposal."






The War against Secrecy
Not long after World War II, Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, and others protested continued classification of research. Many nuclear scientists even advocated sharing nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union, then our former ally and budding adversary, reasoning that openness on our part would allay the fears of the Soviets. Teller made the point that keeping scientific facts secret would hinder us but would hardly interfere with the work of a potential competitor, because scientific discoveries are almost always made by more than one researcher. However, the U.S. government rejected this and other overtures for openness.
Teller likened military secrets to industry's protection of engineering and production technologies. Industry limits access to a product until it reaches the market and researchers begin to produce the next generation. He saw no reason why military secrets could not be handled in a similar way, maintaining secrecy for a year to maintain the element of surprise and then sharing the new technology.
Teller also felt strongly that the country's citizenry should be as well informed about science as possible to allow rational discussion of public policy. Yet, as in the past, the public knows few hard facts about our country's defense systems or those of our adversaries, leaving decisions about our defense to the political winds.
But the classification tide is turning. In December 1993, then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary began to declassify many documents that had been kept at the secret level for decades. Teller played a key role in convincing O'Leary to declassify documents on laser fusion, pointing out that the secret classification of this work placed U.S. scientists at a disadvantage and impeded international cooperation. Because foreign governments did not restrict fusion research in their countries, the only victims of the secrecy were Americans.





A Way of Life
Edward Teller never stops fighting the good fight. During a speech at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Special Guest Day in 1992, he reiterated his concern about education in the hard sciences and engineering. His thesis was that the U.S. cannot maintain its world leadership position and standard of living unless we act now to rejuvenate our scientific community. He also restated his belief that every student should receive lectures that instill an appreciation of science and technology. According to Teller, possessing a scientific understanding of the universe is important because science "has an influence on all of us, affecting our ideas of space, time, and causality." And understanding technology is important "because we live in it."
He also continues to urge the government to change its classification policy to one that enforces secrecy in a practical manner, that limits the lifespan of secret information, and corresponds with the American ethos.
Teller, a naturalized American citizen, clearly loves his adopted country. Both efforts-for better science education and greater openness-are driven by his concern for maintaining the American way of life.
--Katie Walter






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