Physicist, Molecular Biologist, 'Scientist of Conscience'. 1898 - 1964
"Great power imposes the obligation of exercising restraint, and we did not live up to this obligation."
Born in Budapest 11th February 1898, Szilard (pronounced SIL-ahrd) studied engineering at the Budapest Technical University before joining the Army, receiving an honorable discharge in 1918. He continued his studies for a time, but left for Berlin to escape the anti-Semitic regime in Hungary, and took up physics at the University of Berlin in 1920.
Having studied with such worthies as Einstein and Planck, he gained much recognition by receiving the "eximia" award, the highest honour granted by the university, as well as resounding praise from his tutor, Einstein. In 1922 he gained his doctorate and began to work with Hermann Mark on X-ray diffraction. His work spanned such topics as electron micrososcopy, refrigeration (he designed a linear induction pump with Einstein), information theory (a paper expounding on Maxwell's Demon) and taught theoretical and nuclear physics alongside Erwin Schrodinger and John von Neumann.
His work as a 'scientist of conscience' began in 1930 with his attempts to create a worldwide internationalist organisation of progressive intellectuals, to organise responsible utopian research, and later, he raised awareness of Japanese aggression, and tried to organise a scientific boycott of Japan.
In 1933 he fled the Nazi regime and began work in Britain and began work researching the possibility of nuclear power. In 1934 he filed a patent application for the neutron chain reaction, and began experimental work at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, having had his application for work space at Cambridge turned down by Ernest Rutherford. He continued his researches in Oxford before moving to America in 1938, certain of a European War.
In 1939, he predicted the fission reaction of uranium, work which would lead him to become involved with the work leading up to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. In 1940 he was employed under a defence contract alongside Enrico Fermi, and began the process of designing the systems which would be used in fission reactors. His theoretical work and designs would later be used, even though he was considered at one time to be a detriment to the nuclear project.
With the development of nuclear weapons he, along with many other scientists, became concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and attempted to meet with President Roosevelt. He organised many petitions and testified before the Senate on the pros and cons of nuclear power. His conscience finally drove him to quit the field of physics altogether, and he began to carry on research in molecular biology at the University of Chicago, with Aaron Novick.
He remained a lifelong opponent of further weapon development, and was publicly opposed to the development of fusion weapons. During the 1950s, he began his involvement in the Pugwash conferences, which were a forum for scientists to discuss security issues, and turning down many offers of further work in the nuclear sciences.
In 1959, however, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and developed his own radiation therapy regime, which he began the following year. Sadly, his health continued to decline, and he continued to work for peace (proposing the US-USSR 'hotline', for example) until his death in La Jolla, California on 30th May, 1964.
"I thought it would be very bad to set a precedent for using atomic energy for purposes of destruction. And I think that having done so we have greatly affected the postwar history."
Thanks to esapersona for the challenge...