The First Great Era of Physics

Edward Teller is dead. The first great era of physics has ended.

Edward Teller, godfather of the hydrogen bomb, destoyer of a brilliant scientist’s career, and inspiration for Stanly Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove, died last Tuesday (9/9/03) at the age of 95 in his Stanford home. A man of great learning and conservative politics, Teller spent most of his life living in fear. His fears first led him safely away from Hilter’s human-to-pulp machine and into a life as a leading physicist in America. In his new life, in the new world, Teller’s fear of communism, and the stalinism it bred, placed him squarely in the belly of the nuclear era. He was the physic community’s leading proponent of nuclear proliferation.
And in a very real way, as went Teller, so went physics. Not the ground breaking intellectual and industrial physics which came into being during Teller’s lifetime (of which Teller had far less impact on than many great modern physicists and the cadre of career men churning out a living progressing physics), but the public puppet of physics and physicists: that lightening bolt of political, social, and personal capital created when the first atomic bomb was exploded in the lonely desert of New Mexico in 1945. The first great era of physics, the era where the power of physics was drawn not as much from it’s awe inspiring intellectual pursuit, but from the perception of the nuclear power of physics died Tuesday with Edward Teller.
Society lost a person, his family lost his love, but physics, physics lost a living ghost, a reminder of the darkness behind the atom. May we remember Teller, his fears, his physics, and move on towards a brighter light.

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