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TELLER, EDWARD - Letter from the Hungarian-American physicist known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.”
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TELLER, EDWARD - Letter from the Hungarian-American physicist known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.”

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“It is of course impossible for either of us to make plans until your clearance has come through”


TELLER, EDWARD.(1908-2003). Hungarian-American physicist known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb.” TLS. (“Edward Teller”). 1p. 4to. Livermore, California, January 21, 1953. Written on University of California Radiation Laboratory letterhead to the eminent American physicist JOAQUIN M. LUTTINGER (1923-1997).


Thank you for your letter of January 12th. It is of course impossible for either of us to make plans until your clearance has come through. I hope that it will not take too long and I hope that by the time it comes through you will still not be so committed but that you can spend the fall term of 1953 with us. There is of course even less of a point in raising questions about the further future, but I have some hope that things might work out for a more permanent cooperation. This letter is to ask you that, insofar as this is not in conflict with your interests, you might keep your time free for the fall as long as this seems convenient. We are in the meantime pressing here your clearance procedure as much as we possibly can…” 


After immigrating to the United States in 1930, Teller became an early member of the Manhattan Project, the United States’ secret program to create an atomic bomb ahead of the Nazis. Teller worked directly under the project’s head, American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, at the Los Alamos research site. The secret facility was founded in an isolated area of New Mexico to centralize the research on nuclear weapons conducted across the country. Although the facility employed thousands of researchers, many of whom were Nobel laureates, its purpose largely remained a secret even after the first nuclear test, codenamed “Trinity,” on July 16, 1945. However, following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the existence of Los Alamos became widely known as did Oppenheimer.


“Although the two men didn’t seem to personally clash during the project, as soon as it became clear a fission bomb which split the atom was possible, Teller lost interest. He transferred his interest to a bomb involving the fusion of atoms. Eventually, Teller became so distracted by his research on the hydrogen bomb that Oppenheimer cut him loose from the core team, though not from the overall project, to pursue his own interests... After the end of the war, Teller remained focused on the fusion bomb, which could be made bigger and more powerful. Oppenheimer wanted to take the concept of nuclear bombs and make them smaller… Oppenheimer and Teller were competing, actively, for the same resources from the same government,” (“The heartbreaking feud between Edward Teller and J Robert Oppenheimer,” Gizmodo, Inglis-Arkell).


In 1945, Oppenheimer left Los Alamos to lead Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies where he influenced the trajectory of post-war research. He also served as chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the newly-founded Atomic Energy Commission, where he vehemently advocated international arms control.  


However, in 1953, because of his reservations about a nuclear arms race during the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era, the Atomic Energy Commission withdrew Oppenheimer’s security clearance. “Oppenheimer asked for a security hearing, and, there, Teller testified [against Oppenheimer]… Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked. He left the United States for the Virgin Islands, and left nuclear research to take part in the anti-proliferation movement. Teller stayed in the scientific community for quite some time, but his unofficial reputation never recovered. Some biographers refer to his treatment by other scientists as yet another ‘exile,’” (ibid.).


Despite his peer’s rejection, Teller – with American government support – continued his research into nuclear energy and co-founded the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1952, whence our letter was written. For many years, he directed the laboratory, meant to compete with Los Alamos and spur innovation. Among Teller’s numerous important discoveries in the fields of nuclear and molecular physics were the Jahn-Teller and Renner-Teller effects, the Gamow-Teller transitions and the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller theory.


After earning his PhD in physics from MIT in 1947, Luttinger received a National Research Council Fellowship for 1948-1949. As such, “Luttinger took advantage of a Swiss-American exchange fellowship to become the first American postdoc in Wolfgang Pauli’s group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich after World War II. There, he demonstrated his brilliance in contributions… to the just-developed renormalized quantum electrodynamics. Especially noteworthy is his 1948 calculation of the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron, carried out independently of and approximately simultaneously with the calculation by Julian Schwinger,” (Joaquin M. Luttinger’s obituary in Journal of Statistical Physics). Among his many innovative theories is the Luttinger liquid model, which describes the interaction of electrons in a one-dimensional conductor. He is also known for Luttinger’s theorem, the Luttinger parameter and the Luttinger-Ward function. Over the course of his illustrious career, he was affiliated with Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and was a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and Rockefeller University.


Accompanied by the original envelope with handwritten formulae on both the recto and verso, probably in Luttinger’s hand. Normal letter folds and in fine condition.


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