Secrecy News

Bethe, Oppenheimer and Teller: Their Accomplishments

In 1959, physicists Hans Bethe, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller were candidates to receive the Enrico Fermi Award for contributions to the development of atomic energy.

In a newly discovered letter written in June 1959, Los Alamos physicist Norris Bradbury provided his evaluation of the achievements of each of the three eminent scientists. His letter was published last month for the first time, with an introduction by historian Roger Meade. See Bethe, Oppenheimer, Teller and the Fermi Award: Norris Bradbury Speaks, Los Alamos National Laboratory, April 28, 2017.

After assessing the accomplishments of the three of them at some length, Bradbury concluded that they were all deserving of the Fermi Award.

“I have no solution to this dilemma to propose other than the not entirely facetious suggestion that a joint award to all three individuals be made — with the additional proviso that it would be expected to make the same triply joint award for the two following years!”

As it turned out, Dr. Meade recalled in a footnote, Bethe received the award in 1961, Teller received it in 1962, and Oppenheimer in 1963.