The Atlanta Hungarian Meetup Group Message Board › Remembering Leo Szilard
Ken Koves asked for this article to be shared with the group.
Remembering Leo Szilard
I hope you will take a minute to remember Leo Szilard on May 30th, the 48th anniversary of his passing. This obscure Hungarian immigrant had an incredible impact upon science, medicine and world politics, yet he remains a Genius in the Shadows, relatively unknown even to those who stand upon the shoulders of his scientific intellect.
In an era when great scientific minds called the practical use of atomic energy “moonshine,” Dr. Szilard was the first to visualize the extraordinary impact that applied nuclear physics could have upon the world.
He was the first person to realize that nuclear chain reactions could be used as weapons. Then, after literally patented the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, and ensuring that fascism would not be the first to acquire its deadly potential, he became the leading spokesman for a world without the threat of nuclear war.
His seminal achievements include Albert Einstein’s 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that initiated the go-for-broke nuclear weapons development program in the United States. That letter was written by Leo Szilard and began by saying “Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard.” And as a result of Szilard’s dogged determination, the United States government and its military came to recognize the impact that nuclear weapons would have on that war, and continue to have on the international community.
Along with Nobel Laureate Enrico Fermi he developed the first nuclear power reactor. And later he developed the science for breeder reactors; nuclear reactors that make their own nuclear fuel.
When the cold war was in high gear, he met with and convinced the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to install a hotline telephone between Washington and Moscow to avoid the inadvertent launch of nuclear holocaust from a potential misunderstanding.
In his last decade he wrote about the moral and ethical issues of the cold war and nuclear weapons in a series of political-science fiction essays under the title of the Voice of the Dolphins.
And with Jonas Salk, he helped establish the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California which continues to be the premier independent, non-profit, scientific research institute in the areas of molecular biology and genetics, neurosciences and plant biology. Its research topics include cancer, diabetes, birth defects, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS and the neurobiology of American sign language.
When the European Molecular Biology Laboratory was established, the library was named The Szilard Library and the library stamp features dolphins.
Dr. Szilard received his Ph.D in 1923 in physics from Humboldt University of Berlin. His dissertation was praised by Einstein, and is the earliest known paper in the field of “information theory.” History also credits his ideas as the foundation for the invention of the linear accelerator and the cyclotron. Yet although his ideas led to the award of the Nobel Prize for others, he never received that accolade.
The work of Leo Szilard continues to touch everyone’s life in so many ways, yet his life’s accomplishments are known to only a few. He was truly an intellect for the ages - yet his contributions to science and the world remain unheralded.
In the words of Jonas Salk, “in his special ways, through a quest for knowledge and through the force of his pragmatic idealism, he sought to create a more peaceful world.... There are too few like Leo Szilard.” He provided “a role model for others of his kind for which the world is now in great need.”
On May 30th, we should all take just a moment to remember the intellect, idealism and fierce dedication to principle embodied in the life of Leo Szilard, who passed away from a heart attack in his sleep in 1964.