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Leo Szilárd

Leo Szilárd (1898-1964)

World famous Hungarian Nuclear Physicist.

In 1934 when the Nazis came to power a young Hungarian Physics professor made a very wise decision. He left Germany and moved over to England where he did research in nuclear physics. This wise young scientist was none other than Leo Szilárd whose notable contribution to the development of controlled nuclear fission was fundamental to the development of nuclear reactors and the atomic bomb.

Leo Szilárd was born on the 11th of February 1898 in Budapest to a middle class intellectual family. From an early age he showed a very strong sense of curiosity towards the way things work. He would take apart an alarm clock in an attempt to see how it ticked and do so without forgetting how to put it all back together again. Thus it is no surprise that he took up Physics at the Budapest Institute of Technology the alma mater of many famous scientists Hungarian and foreign. He got his Ph.D. at the University of Berlin in 1922 and taught there from 1923 till deciding to leave Germany in 1933. For the next five years his research work in England convinced some of his colleagues that he and physics in general would greatly benefit if Leo would take advantage of the research resources available in the United States. He was invited to be a guest researcher at Columbia University in New York City just as the Second World War began. A year later in 1939 he decided to go and see Einstein as part of a group of scientists concerned about the menace Hitler posed and convinced the great physicist genius to get the support of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to give backing for the idea of nuclear weaponry in effect a bomb that might be developed which would unleash the force of the sun on those who threatened democracy human rights and the free world. The President was already aware of intelligence reports concerning advances made by scientists working for the NAZIs especially in the fields of rocket enginery and atomic energy. So the foundations of the then top secret Manhattan Project were quickly laid and built upon. A year after Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the United States to fully enter the war Szilárd was working at the University of Chicago alongside the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. They created the first sustained nuclear chain reaction. Throughout the early Forties Szilárd travelled secretly to Los Alamos to join up with the other great scientists working on The Bomb. Among them his friends J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi. His contributions to the research of the reaction potential of the atomic bomb calmed speculation by some in the military that a detonated atomic bomb might go on indefinitely and destroy the entire planet making it a fiery sunlike sphere. But Szilárd was not happy to find out that the military dropped the bomb on heavily populated Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan and thereafter lost his trust in the government and became involved in seeking ethics in science and technology. He had left nuclear physics research in 1946 and became a professor of bio-physics at the University of Chicago. The Ford Motor Company awarded him the Atoms for Peace Prize in 1959. Less than five years later on the 30th of May 1964 he died at the age of 66 in La Jolla California possibly from the health complications caused by over-exposure to nuclear fission during his research years.



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