Photo of Edward Teller

Edward Teller

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For his outstanding contribution to molecular physics, understanding the origin of stellar energy, the theory and application of fusion reaction, the field of nuclear safety, and for his continued leadership in science and technology.

Edward Teller’s views on nuclear weapons made him one of the world’s most famous and perhaps controversial scientists. A theoretical physicist who had fled Europe as Hitler was ascending to power, Teller made his way to the U.S. and became a member of the team working on the Manhattan Project, the secret construction of an atomic bomb to end World War II.

After the war, Teller pushed for a program to build an even more powerful bomb, and is often called the “father of the hydrogen bomb.’’ Under President Harry Truman, Teller and another scientist, Stanislaw Ulam, designed the first hydrogen bomb.

His push for the hydrogen bomb, as well as his support for a broad range of nuclear weapons, divided many in the science community. Teller was director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a nuclear weapons lab, from 1958-1960, and later was influential in the President Ronald Reagan’s push to build a system to defend against nuclear attacks, called the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Teller also was a strong advocate of nuclear power. Born in Hungary, Teller earned a doctorate in physics in 1930 at the University of Leipzig.

By Robert Warren