Szilard Quotes

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I'm all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.
Leo Szilard
It's said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That's false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken." I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.
Jacob Bronowski
Yes, he's an equal opportunity asshole," Szilard said. "And he's aware of it, which he thinks means it's okay.
John Scalzi (The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2))
If you want to succeed in the world, you don't have to be much cleverer than other people. You just have to be one day earlier.
Leo Szilard
I seem to be good at speaking the politicians’ language,” Szilard said. “Apparently there’s an advantage around here to being mildly socially retarded, and that’s the Special Forces for sure.
John Scalzi (The Last Colony (Old Man's War, #3))
Three stages of truth for scientists: (1) It's not true. (2) If it is true, it's not very important. (3) We knew it all along.
Leo Szilard
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilárd, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. ... This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port altogether with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
Albert Einstein
Szilard looked over at Robbins. “Is it true?” he said. “Which part, sir?” Robbins said. “That you don’t like General Mattson,” Szilard said. “He can take some getting used to, sir,” Robbins said. “By which he means I’m an asshole,
John Scalzi (The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2))
Another explanation for the failure of logic and observation alone to advance medicine is that unlike, say, physics, which uses a form of logic - mathematics - as its natural language, biology does not lend itself to logic. Leo Szilard, a prominent physicist, made this point when he complained that after switching from physics to biology he never had a peaceful bath again. As a physicist he would soak in the warmth of a bathtub and contemplate a problem, turn it in his mind, reason his way through it. But once he became a biologist, he constantly had to climb out of the bathtub to look up a fact.
John M. Barry (The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History)
They all thought that civilized Germans would not stand for anything really rough happening.” Szilard held no such sanguine view, noting that the Germans themselves were paralyzed with cynicism, one of the uglier effects on morals of losing a major war.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
I have known a great many intelligent people in my life. I knew Max Planck, Max von Laue, and Wemer Heisenberg. Paul Dirac was my brother-in-Iaw; Leo Szilard and Edward Teller have been among my closest friends; and Albert Einstein was a good friend, too. And I have known many of the brightest younger scientists. But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jancsi von Neumann. I have often remarked this in the presence of those men, and no one ever disputed me. [...] But Einstein's understanding was deeper than even Jancsi von Neumann's. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann's. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jancsi's brilliance, he never produced anything so original.
Eugene Paul Wigner (The Recollections Of Eugene P. Wigner: As Told To Andrew Szanton)
I believe that many children are born with an inquisitive mind, the mind of a scientist, and I assume that I became a scientist because in some ways I remained a child.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
What we call disorder or chaos might actually be order, if order is seen as a random distribution and not as a static, idealized condition.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
A scientist's aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.
Leo Szilard
an expert is a man who knows what cannot be done.” Szilard found that last paragraph “rather irritating because how can anyone know what someone else might invent?
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
As he lay back in his tub that autumnal London morning, Leo Szilard wondered why the forecasts of writers sometimes prove to be more accurate than those of scientists.
Richard Flanagan (Question 7)
Rutherford’s and Soddy’s discussions of radioactive change therefore inspired the science fiction novel that eventually started Leo Szilard thinking about chain reactions and atomic bombs.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: ‘I don’t intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.’ ‘Don’t you think God knows the facts?’ Bethe asked. ‘Yes,’ said Szilard. ‘He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.’ Hans Christian von Baeyer, Taming the Atom
Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything)
Echoing his discussion of the previous day with Szilard, Oppenheimer said, “If we were to offer to exchange information before the bomb was actually used, our moral position would be greatly strengthened.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
During the same period Szilard wrote Michael Polanyi he would “stay in England until one year before the war, at which time I would shift my residence to New York City.”896 The letter provoked comment, Szilard enjoyed recalling; it was “very funny, because how can anyone say what he will do one year before the war?” As it turned out, his prognostication was off by only four months: he arrived in the United States on January 2, 1938.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
My wife believes in it not one whit, but is scrupulous in its observance," said Charles Leiden, sipping from his glass. "A curious state of affairs, don't you think? We are kosher, Fermi probably attends synagogue, Albert believed in Spinoza's God and helped raise money for Israel, Teller may end up teaching in a Jewish parochial school one day, Szilard has the soul of a Jewish prophet. And we tinker with light and atomic bombs, with the energy of the universe. Do you wonder that the world doesn't know what to make of its Jews? No one is on more familiar terms with the heart of the insanity in the universe than is the Jew, and no one is more frenetic and untidy in the search for the an answer.
Chaim Potok (The Book of Lights)
A.E.G., the German General Electric, signed Szilard on as a paid consultant and actually built one of the Einstein-Szilard refrigerators, but the magnetic pump was so noisy compared to even the noisy conventional compressors of the day that it never left the engineering lab.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Out of the prospering but vulnerable Hungarian Jewish middle class came no fewer than seven of the twentieth century’s most exceptional scientists: in order of birth, Theodor von Kármán, George de Hevesy, Michael Polanyi, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann and Edward Teller.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Leo Szilard was frantic. The peripatetic physicist knew time was running out. Atomic bombs would soon be ready, and he expected that they would be used on Japanese cities. Having been the first to urge President Roosevelt to initiate a program to build atomic weapons, he now made repeated attempts to prevent their use.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
He reached over, took the second cookie, and offered it to Robbins. “Here,” he said. “I saw you coveting it.” Robbins stared at the cookie, then looked around. “I can’t take that,” he said. “Sure you can,” Szilard said. “I’m not supposed to eat anything here,” Robbins said. “So what?” Szilard said. “Screw ’em. It’s a ridiculous tradition and you know it. So break it. Take the cookie.” Robbins took the cookie and stared at it glumly. “Oh, good God,” Szilard said. “Do I have to order you to eat the damn thing?” “It might help,” Robbins said. “Fine,” Szilard said. “Colonel, I’m giving you a direct order. Eat the fucking cookie.” Robbins ate it. The waiter was scandalized.
John Scalzi (The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2))
Your knowledge and wisdom determine who you are. In our society, there is a market for skills and knowledge. But I have some doubts if there is much of a market for wisdom.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
On the day in April 1933 when he decided to flee from Berlin to Vienna, the train he took was essentially empty. One day later, the same train was overcrowded and stopped at the border, and everyone on it was interrogated. Szilard later related the impact this had on his thinking: “This just goes to show that if you want to succeed in this world you don’t have to be much cleverer than other people, you just have to be one day earlier than most people.
Alex Wellerstein (Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States)
The scientists there included Leo Szilard, the man who first conceived of the nuclear chain reaction. Szilard was a Hungarian Jew who had studied at the University of Berlin—until the fatal year of 1933. The research team in Chicago was led by Enrico Fermi, the Italian physicist. Fermi, whose wife was Jewish, had left Italy when Mussolini published his Manifesto of Race. Greg wondered whether the Fascists realized that their racism had brought such a windfall of brilliant scientists to their enemies.
Ken Follett (Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy #2))
The ten commandments according to Leó Szilárd 1. Recognize the connections of things and laws of conduct of men, so that you may know what you are doing. 2. Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end. 3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of creation. 4. Do not destroy what you cannot create. 5. Touch no dish, except that you are hungry. 6. Do not covet what you cannot have. 7. Do not lie without need. 8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love. 9.Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become. 10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called. Leo Szilard 'Die Stimme der Delphine.' Utopische Erzählungen. Rowohit Taschenbuch Verlag. 1963. Translated by Dr. Jacob Bronowski.
Leo Szilard
Citing this and other exchanges, the science sociologist Charles Robert Thorpe has argued that while Oppenheimer may have been “excommunicated from the inner circle of the nuclear state,” he nevertheless “remained in spirit a supporter of the fundamental direction of its policies.” In Thorpe’s eyes, Oppenheimer was slipping back into his “earlier role as scientific-military strategist of the winnable nuclear war and apologist for the powers-that-be.” It seemed that way to some. Oppenheimer was certainly not willing to throw in his lot with political activists like Lord Russell, Rotblat, Szilard, Einstein and others who frequently signed petitions protesting the American-led arms race.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
During World War II, there had been a project to sabotage the Nazi nuclear weapons program. Years earlier, Leo Szilard, the first person to realize the possibility of a fission chain reaction, had convinced Fermi not to publish the discovery that purified graphite was a cheap and effective neutron moderator. Fermi had wanted to publish, for the sake of the great international project of science, which was above nationalism. But Szilard had persuaded Rabi, and Fermi had abided by the majority vote of their tiny three-person conspiracy. And so, years later, the only neutron moderator the Nazis had known about was deuterium. The only deuterium source under Nazi control had been a captured facility in occupied Norway, which had been knocked out by bombs and sabotage, causing a total of twenty-four civilian deaths. The Nazis had tried to ship the deuterium already refined to Germany, aboard a civilian Norwegian ferry, the SS Hydro. Knut Haukelid and his assistants had been discovered by the night watchman of the civilian ferry while they were sneaking on board to sabotage it. Haukelid had told the watchman that they were escaping the Gestapo, and the watchman had let them go. Haukelid had considered warning the night watchman, but that would have endangered the mission, so Haukelid had only shaken his hand. And the civilian ship had sunk in the deepest part of the lake, with eight dead Germans, seven dead crew, and three dead civilian bystanders. Some of the Norwegian rescuers of the ship had thought the German soldiers present should be left to drown, but this view had not prevailed, and the German survivors had been rescued. And that had been the end of the Nazi nuclear weapons program. Which was to say that Knut Haukelid had killed innocent people. One of whom, the night watchman of the ship, had been a good person. Someone who'd gone out of his way to help Haukelid, at risk to himself; from the kindness of his heart, for the highest moral reasons; and been sent to drown in turn. Afterward, in the cold light of history, it had looked like the Nazis had never been close to getting nuclear weapons after all. And Harry had never read anything suggesting that Haukelid had acted wrongly.
Eliezer Yudkowsky (Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality)
. . . the most important thing to remember about science is the fact that it is supposed to be fun. . . . Doing nothing—in a pleasant sort of way—was always considered in Europe a perfectly respectable way of spending one’s time,” he said, voicing his own predilection. “Here in America you are expected to keep busy all the time—it does not matter so much what you are doing as long as you are doing it fast.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Oppenheimer had played an ambiguous role in this critical discussion. He had vigorously advanced Bohr’s notion that the Russians should soon be briefed about the impending new weapon. He had even persuaded General Marshall, until Byrnes had effectively derailed the idea. On the other hand, he had evidently felt it prudent to remain silent as General Groves made clear his intention to dismiss dissident scientists like Szilard. Neither had Oppenheimer offered an alternative to, let alone criticism of, Conant’s euphemistic definition of the proposed “military” target—“a vital war plant employing a large number of workers and closely surrounded by workers’ houses.” Though he had clearly argued for some of Bohr’s ideas about openness, in the end he had won nothing and acquiesced to everything. The Soviets would not be adequately informed about the Manhattan Project, and the bomb would be used on a Japanese city without warning.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
On May 25, Szilard and two colleagues—Walter Bartky of the University of Chicago and Harold Urey of Columbia University—appeared at the White House, only to be told that Truman had referred them to James F. Byrnes, soon to be designated secretary of state. Dutifully, they traveled to Byrnes’ home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for a meeting that concluded, to say the least, unproductively. When Szilard explained that the use of the atomic bomb against Japan risked turning the Soviet Union into an atomic power, Byrnes interrupted, “General Groves tells me there is no uranium in Russia.” No, Szilard replied, the Soviet Union has plenty of uranium. Byrnes then suggested that the use of the atomic bomb on Japan would help persuade Russia to withdraw its troops from Eastern Europe after the war. Szilard was “flabbergasted by the assumption that rattling the bomb might make Russia more manageable.” “Well,” Byrnes said, “you come from Hungary—you would not want Russia to stay in Hungary indefinitely.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
TWO WEEKS after Oppenheimer wrote his June 16 memo summarizing the views of the science panel, Edward Teller came to him with a copy of a petition that was circulating throughout the Manhattan Project’s facilities. Drafted by Leo Szilard, the petition urged President Truman not to use atomic weapons on Japan without a public statement of the terms of surrender: “. . . the United States shall not resort to the use of atomic bombs in this war unless the terms which will be imposed upon Japan have been made public in detail and Japan knowing these terms has refused to surrender. . . .” Over the next few weeks, Szilard’s petition garnered the signatures of 155 Manhattan Project scientists. A counter-petition mustered only two signatures. In a separate July 12, 1945, Army poll of 150 scientists in the project, seventy-two percent favored a demonstration of the bomb’s power as against its military use without prior warning. Even so, Oppenheimer expressed real anger when Teller showed him Szilard’s petition. According to Teller, Oppie began disparaging Szilard and his cohorts: “What do they know about Japanese psychology? How can they judge the way to end the war?” These were judgments better left in the hands of men like Stimson and General Marshall. “Our conversation was brief,” Teller wrote in his memoirs. “His talking so harshly about my close friends and his impatience and vehemence greatly distressed me. But I readily accepted his decision. . . .
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
MEANWHILE, a group of scientists in Chicago, spurred on by Szilard, organized an informal committee on the social and political implications of the bomb. In early June 1945, several members of the committee produced a twelve-page document that came to be known as the Franck Report, after its chairman, the Nobelist James Franck. It concluded that a surprise atomic attack on Japan was inadvisable from any point of view: “It may be very difficult to persuade the world that a nation which was capable of secretly preparing and suddenly releasing a weapon as indiscriminate as the [German] rocket bomb and a million times more destructive, is to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having such weapons abolished by international agreement.” The signatories recommended a demonstration of the new weapon before representatives of the United Nations, perhaps in a desert site or on a barren island. Franck was dispatched with the Report to Washington, D.C., where he was informed, falsely, that Stimson was out of town. Truman never saw the Franck Report; it was seized by the Army and classified. By contrast to the people in Chicago, the scientists in Los Alamos, working feverishly to test the plutonium implosion bomb model as soon as possible, had little time to think about how or whether their “gadget” should be used on Japan. But they also felt that they could rely on Oppenheimer. As the Met Lab biophysicist Eugene Rabinowitch, one of the seven signatories of the Franck Report, observed, the Los Alamos scientists shared a widespread “feeling that we can trust Oppenheimer to do the right thing.
Kai Bird (American Prometheus)
Those insights in science that have led to a breakthrough were not logically derived from preexisting knowledge: The creative processes on which the progress of science is based operate on the level of the subconscious.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Let your acts be directed toward a worthy goal but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
he mentioned that The Tragedy of Man by Madách had “influenced my whole life.” The moral he recalled from it was that no matter how gloomy the human condition, we must maintain a “narrow margin of hope” and take action.60
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
imagination is the tool which has to be used if the impossible is to be accomplished.”74
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Allison gave the reporters something more stirring to write about. “Scientist Drops A-Bomb: Blasts Army Shackles,” the Chicago Tribune reported about his remarks. “We are determined to return to free research, as before the war,” he said, warning that if military regulations hampered the free exchange of scientific information, researchers in America “would leave the field of atomic energy and devote themselves to studying the color of butterfly wings.”1
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Adamson scoffed. It generally takes two wars to develop a new weapon, he said; besides, it was “morale,” not research, that led to victory. Shifting in his chair, the formal and ever-polite Wigner could not contain his impatience. “Perhaps,” he told Adamson in a high-pitched but steady voice, enunciating every syllable, “it would be better if we did away with the War Department and spread the military funds among the civilian population. That would raise a lot of morale.”49
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Leo’s real problem,” Trude once told Puck, “is that he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Recognize the connections of things and the laws of conduct of men so that you may know what you are doing.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
It is hard to be right and be a pessimist,” Szilard concluded.24
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Leo said that his function was to head up the Happiness Committee,” Lerner recalled. “He said a university ran on the happiness of the faculty, and he wanted to be the one to think up ways of keeping them happy.” See that they are well paid, Szilard said, that their offices are comfortable, their graduate assistants are bright and eager, and that the faculty club food is appetizing. Then you will have a first-rate university!
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
El físico Leo Szilard anuncié una Vez a su amigo, Hans fleche, que estaba pensando en escribir un diario: «No me propongo publicado. Me limitaré a registrar los hechos para que Dios se informe», «¿Tú crees que Dios no conoce los hechos?», preguntó Bethe. «Sí — dijo Szilard—. El conoce los hechos, pero no conoce esta versión de los hechos.»
Anonymous
In view of the cataclysmic changes that followed, it is significant that the initiative in bringing about the release of nuclear energy, the central event in the recrudescence of the megamachine in modern form, was taken, not by the central government, but by a small group of physicists. Not less significant is the fact that these advocates of nuclear power were themselves unusually humane and morally sensitive people, notably, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, Harold Urey. These were the last scientists one would accuse of seeking to establish a new priesthood capable of assuming autocratic authority and wielding satanic power. Those unpleasant characteristics, which have become all too evident in later collaborators and successors, were derived from the new instruments commanded by the megamachine and the dehumanized concepts that were rapidly incorporated in its whole working program. As for the initiators of the atom bomb, it was their innocence that concealed from them, at least in the initial stages, the dreadful ultimate consequences of their effort.
Lewis Mumford (The Pentagon of Power (The Myth of the Machine, Vol 2))
From his intense and exuberant child-hood in Budapest’s elegant Garden District he gained the means to be a
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
The slow, careful checking continued through the morning. A crowd began to gather on the balcony. Szilard arrived, Wigner, Allison, Spedding whose metal eggs had flattened the pile. Twenty-five or thirty people accumulated on the balcony watching, most of them the young physicists who had done the work.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
From the horrible weapon which they were about to urge the United States to develop, Szilard, Teller and Wigner—“the Hungarian conspiracy,” Merle Tuve was amused to call them—hoped for more than deterrence against German aggression.1194 They also hoped for world government and world peace, conditions they imagined bombs made of uranium might enforce.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Einstein preferred to review a letter to the President in person. Teller therefore delivered Szilard to Peconic, probably on Sunday, July 30, in his sturdy 1935 Plymouth.1183 “I entered history as Szilard’s chauffeur,” Teller aphorizes the experience.1184 They found the Princeton laureate in old clothes and slippers. Elsa Einstein served tea.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Hungary was drawn along in the same vortex of intellectual excitement and scientific progress that enveloped the rest of the empire. An extraordinary constellation of the twentieth century’s leading physicists and mathematicians were the product of its equally exceptional educational system at the turn of the century—John von Neumann, Edward Teller, Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Theodor von Kármán, Paul Erdös, and George Pólya, among many others. All came from Hungary’s Jewish middle class, all would flee Hitler’s Europe, and many would end up working during the Second World War for the Manhattan Project, helping to ensure that America, and not Germany, would be the first to build the atomic bomb. The educational reforms instituted in the era of ascendant liberal values in the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire emphasized creative thinking and experimental curiosity over rote learning.
Stephen Budiansky (Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Gödel)
In a 1978 memoir von Weizsäcker remembers discussing the possibility of a bomb with Otto Hahn in the spring of 1939. Hahn opposed secrecy then partly on the grounds of scientific ethics but also partly because he “felt that if it were to be made, it would be worst for the entire world, even for Germany, if Hitler were to be the only one to have it.” Like Szilard, Teller and Wigner, von Weizsäcker remembers realizing in discussions with a friend “that this discovery could not fail to radically change the political structure of the world”:1207
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Szilard’s good friend and fellow Hungarian, the theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner, who was studying chemical engineering at the Technische Hochschule at the time of Szilard’s conversion, watched him take the University of Berlin by storm.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Szilard began explaining. “Five or ten minutes” later, he says, Einstein understood. After only a year of university physics, Szilard had worked out a rigorous mathematical proof that the random motion of thermal equilibrium could be fitted within the framework of the phenomenological theory in its original, classical form, without reference to a limiting atomic model—“and [Einstein] liked this very much.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
One of Szilard’s sidelines, then and later, was invention. Between 1924 and 1934 he applied to the German patent office individually or jointly with his partner Albert Einstein for twenty-nine patents.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Robert Oppenheimer thus acquired for Los Alamos what Leo Szilard had not been able to organize in Chicago: scientific freedom of speech. The price the new community paid, a social but more profoundly a political price, was a guarded barbed-wire fence around the town and a second guarded barbed-wire fence around the laboratory itself, emphasizing that the scientists and their families were walled off where knowledge of their work was concerned not only from the world but even from each other.
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
Szilard and Fermi disagreed about how to report their own recent experiments; Szilard and Teller insisted that all uranium work must be kept secret, Fermi condemned censorship as unscientific. But, living in a democracy now, he proposed a vote, lost to the Hungarians two to one, and when back at Columbia, advocated censorship.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
He credits this decision to three people: H. G. Wells, who showed Szilard “what the liberation of atomic energy on a large scale would mean”; and Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, the French nuclear scientists who at about this time demonstrated that radioactivity could be created artificially and need not depend on nature’s elemental design.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Szilard also hoped to talk to Fermi: “I thought that if neutrons are in fact emitted in fission, this fact should be kept secret from the Germans
Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition)
And while living on his savings, Szilard had no other scientific or academic burdens and deadlines. No family. No close friends. No household chores. No pets. No hobbies. When he wanted to think about the chain reaction, he could. And did. For days and nights at a time.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
He credits this decision to three people: H. G. Wells, who showed Szilard “what the liberation of atomic energy on a large scale would mean”; and Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, the French nuclear scientists who at about this time demonstrated that radioactivity could be created artificially and need not depend
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Keeping his chain-reaction patent a secret was one way for Szilard to prevent Germany from realizing fission’s military potential. Another way was to urge fellow scientists to censor their own research.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Szilard explained that the chain reaction might be possible and asked to borrow some money—he was nearly broke—for experiments to confirm this. “How much money do you need?” Liebowitz asked. “Well, I’d like to borrow $2,000,” Szilard said. Liebowitz took out his checkbook. This was the first American money spent on the chain-reaction concept, and it is no exaggeration to say that this small loan helped change the fate of the world.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
Although Szilard would not learn about uranium fission for another month, once he did, the despair of that bleak December turned to exhilaration. Then to new fear. The coming year would bring a frenzy of scientific and political activity. Indeed, during 1939, Szilard would almost single-handedly lead the physics community and the US government to join forces in atomic energy research.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
What began as Szilard’s personal crusade to harness the nuclear chain reaction would eventually become the federal government’s $2 billion program to make atomic bombs: the Manhattan Project.
William Lanouette (Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb)
George Orwell believed that up until 1914 Wells was ‘a true prophet’. ‘Thinking people who were born at the beginning of the century are in some sense Wells’ own creation,’ he wrote in a 1941 essay on Wells’s legacy that could just as well have been written about Leo Szilard’s destiny.
Richard Flanagan (Question 7)
In his fictions Leo Szilard’s great influence was his favourite novelist, H. G. Wells, who bowed not before the dark and irrational but looked towards the hope of science and the light of reason to liberate the world.
Richard Flanagan (Question 7)
Einstein and Szilard were friends, and together invented a refrigerator without mechanical parts to help the poor. They first met in 1920 when Szilard moved to Germany after being thrown down a set of steps leading to the Budapest University by anti-Semites and realising that it was time to leave Hungary. An outstanding student, Szilard had trained as an engineer, but in Berlin, the epicentre of modern physics, he pursued the new science.
Richard Flanagan (Question 7)
Without Rebecca West’s kiss H. G. Wells would not have run off to Switzerland to write a book in which everything burns, and without H. G. Wells’s book Leo Szilard would never have conceived of a nuclear chain reaction and without conceiving of a nuclear chain reaction he would never have grown terrified and without growing terrified Leo Szilard would never have persuaded Einstein to lobby Roosevelt and without Einstein lobbying Roosevelt there would have been no Manhattan Project and without the Manhattan Project there is no lever at 8.15 am on 6 August 1945 for Thomas Ferebee to release 31,000 feet over Hiroshima, there is no bomb on Hiroshima and no bomb on Nagasaki and 100,000 people or 160,000 people or 200,000 people live and my father dies. Poetry may make nothing happen, but a novel destroyed Hiroshima and without Hiroshima there is no me and these words erase themselves and me with them.
Richard Flanagan (Question 7)
Is Szilard, with his thought experiment, suggesting that information can do the opposite, overcoming the second law of thermodynamics and turning warm air at a constant temperature into useful work? Such a system would reduce the entropy of the universe because this “free” work could be used to force heat to flow the “wrong” way from cold to hot.
Paul Sen (Einstein's Fridge: How the Difference Between Hot and Cold Explains the Universe)
A small inner chamber (2) sat in the middle of a larger cylinder (13) that contained whatever needed cooling, say ice cream. A chemical named methanol was then evaporated in the inner chamber, thus cooling the surrounding cylinder. A small pipe (5) then conveyed the now gaseous methanol to another cylinder that was connected to an ordinary water tap. From this water flowed, dissolving the methanol and flushing it away. The upside of this design was that it needed no power other than tap-water pressure and that methanol fumes aren’t toxic in small quantities. The downside was that the methanol coolant was not reused. Once its cooling work was done, it was flushed away down the sink. Einstein and Szilard figured that the low cost of methanol meant this wouldn’t put off potential customers.
Paul Sen (Einstein's Fridge: How the Difference Between Hot and Cold Explains the Universe)
Back at the drawing board, Einstein and Szilard came up with their most imaginative idea—a device that worked like a conventional refrigerator, but which had a revolutionary compressor design. Remember this key component warms gaseous coolant and then pumps it into a condenser so it can then release the heat it has absorbed from the refrigerator’s cold interior to the outside air. Unlike a conventional compressor, which used spinning metal blades to work, the Einstein-Szilard device used a varying electromagnetic field, generated by an electric coil, to make liquid metal in a sealed cylinder move back and forth. This motion drove the compressor. The advantage from the safety perspective was that all the potentially dangerous substances—the refrigerator’s coolant and the liquid metal—were permanently contained within stainless steel pipes and cylinders. There was no seal that might become damaged and leak.
Paul Sen (Einstein's Fridge: How the Difference Between Hot and Cold Explains the Universe)
This contradicts the second law of thermodynamics by implying that we wouldn’t need heat to flow from hot to cold to do useful work. With “Szilard’s demon,” we could obtain power from any volume of gas, even if it was at a constant temperature throughout. Indeed, if enough of these “Szilard demons” were unleashed, we could generate all the electricity we needed from the air in the earth’s atmosphere! It seems possible to construct “a perpetual-motion machine,” as Szilard puts it, simply if “one permits an intelligent being to intervene in a thermodynamic system.
Paul Sen (Einstein's Fridge: How the Difference Between Hot and Cold Explains the Universe)
Szilard emphatically states that this can’t happen for the following reason: The act of measurement by which the demon determines the molecule’s position must cause an increase in entropy that compensates for any decrease in entropy caused as the piston does work.
Paul Sen (Einstein's Fridge: How the Difference Between Hot and Cold Explains the Universe)
Although Leonardo, for example, invented the submarine, he deliberately suppressed this invention "on account of the evil nature of men, who would practice assassination at the bottom of the sea." That reservation marks a moral sensitiveness equal to his inventive abilities: only a relative handful of scientists, like the late Norbert Wiener or Leo Szilard in our day, have shown any parallel concern and self-control.
Lewis Mumford (Technics and Human Development (The Myth of the Machine, Vol 1))
Then the 1956 Peace Prize went to Eisenhower and Khrushchev for agreeing not to build the hydrogen bomb. That agreement was now also called the Szilard Treaty. Today the H-bomb was a threshold no one dared cross without exciting hostile moves by all other powers.
Gregory Benford (The Berlin Project)
I had the mistaken idea, based on what happened in World War I, that we would stay out of the war, and it is very unfortunate that I felt like that. If I had been more convinced, as Wigner and Szilard were, that we were going to get into the war, I would have pushed harder to begin making the bomb. I figured out that roughly half a million to a million people were being killed a month in the later stages of the war. Every month by which we could have shortened the war would have made a difference of a half million to a million lives, including the life of my own brother.
Gregory Benford (The Berlin Project)
Szilard encouraged me to apply for a postdoc position at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, though he knew I might work on nuclear weapons eventually. My job interview with Teller was both stimulating and unnerving; at the end of it, I suspected Teller understood my thesis better than I did. It was also terrifying; I had no warning who would interview me.
Gregory Benford (The Berlin Project)
Leo Szilard, in 1929, showed that the very act of acquiring information about a system increases its entropy in proportion to the amount of information gathered. As the entropy increases, less of the system's total heat energy is available for doing work. To gather enough information to work the shutter effectively we would have to use up, or render inaccessible, an amount of energy at least equal to the work output of any machine that we could drive from the system. So we will never be clever enough to create perpetual motion. Through the work of Szilard and others, Maxwell's demon helped to spark the creation of information theory, now an essential part of the theoretical basis of communications and computing.
Basil Mahon (The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell)
His shelter, as it turned out, burned down in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis the next year, leading Leo Szilard to comment that this proved not only that there was a God but that He had a sense of humor.
Daniel Ellsberg (The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner)