Leó Szilárd

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Leo Szilard was a prominent inventor who was instrumental in the building of the first nuclear reactor as part of the Manhattan Project. Szilard was born to a Jewish civil engineer and studied at the Palatine Joseph Technical University, following in his father’s footsteps. However, he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian military during the subsequent conflict. However, his ill health stopped him from being deported to the front lines. He then resumed his studies at the technical university, but his Jewish ancestry proved to be an impediment, and he transferred to the University of Berlin, where he studied physics under the tutelage of greats such as Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Leo was involved in various inventions during his tenure in Berlin, including the cyclotron and electron microscope. Due to the fact that he never documented any of these inventions, they were credited to others. As mounting Nazi-oppression made it increasingly difficult for scientists to undertake research independently, he went to London and began working at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. This is where he devised a process for isotope separation from compounds, which he termed the Szilard–Chalmers effect in honor of its discoverers. Later in his career, he was involved in the Manhattan project, which was responsible for the design of the nuclear reactor. Continue reading to learn more about his life and work.

Childhood & Adolescence

Leo Szilard was born in a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary on February 11, 1898, to engineer Louis Spitz and his wife Thekla Vidor. He was born Leo Spitz but had his surname changed to Szilard, which means solid when he was two years old. He was the eldest of his family’s three children.

Szilard attended Budapest’s ‘Realiskola School and graduated in 1916 at the age of 18. Simultaneously, he was granted the ‘Eötvös Prize,’ which is given to pupils with superior mathematical understanding in Hungary.
He enrolled in engineering at the ‘Palatine Joseph Technical University’ in 1916 but was drafted into the army a year later and became an officer. He was able to resume his schooling three years after initially being admitted.

In 1919, the ‘Palatine Joseph Technical University, afterward called the ‘Budapest University of Technology,’ refused to admit Leo as a student due to his Jewish heritage, and he fled to Germany later that year.

Szilard enrolled in the ‘Institute of Technology in Berlin-Charlottenburg’ in 1919 but soon got disenchanted with engineering and enrolled in the ‘Friedrich Wilhelm University’s physics degree.
He was taught physics by some of the most brilliant minds in the field, including Albert Einstein, and received a doctorate in physics in 1922.

Leo Szilard’s Career

Szilard was employed as a private instructor at the ‘Institute of Theoretical Physics’ in 1927 after serving as an assistant. During this time period, he published a paper laying the groundwork for the study of information theory.
Although Leo Szilard had earned German citizenship, he recognized that he could not remain in the country for an extended period owing to the development of Nazism and moved to Vienna in 1933. He joined the physics department at ‘St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London a year later.

Szilard was intrigued by Lord Rutherford’s contention that atomic energy was unsuitable for use in the actual world and desired to disprove it. He collaborated with T. A. Chambers on isotope separation and successfully established the ‘Szilard-Chambers effect’.

He traveled to the United States in 1937 to teach at ‘Columbia University’ and, following discussions with Eugene Wagner and Albert Einstein, addressed a letter to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt five years later regarding the atomic bomb.

Szilard began his research on the nuclear reactor at the ‘University of Chicago’ in 1942, in conjunction with Enrico Fermi, and he continued to undertake research there until the end of the Second World War. It was dubbed the ‘Manhattan Project’.

This eminent physicist was named a professor at the ‘University of Chicago’ in 1946, where he taught biophysics. He teamed with chemist Aaron Novick and discovered devices such as the chemostat and the feedback initiation phenomena.

Leo Szilard was also an avid reader and wrote a book titled ‘The Voice of the Dolphins and Other Stories’ in 1959. The book comprised satirical stories about how science may be a lethal weapon in the wrong hands.

His Significant Works

Although the erudite scientist made numerous contributions to science, his most significant contribution to physics was his design of a nuclear reactor based on the principle of nuclear chain reaction. During World War II, he was a member of the group of scientists who led the ‘Manhattan Project’ for the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Awards and Accomplishments

He received the ‘Atoms for Peace Award’ in 1959 for his constant requests for responsible use of atomic energy and for regulating the development of nuclear weapons.

He received the ‘Albert Einstein Award’ in 1960 for his ground-breaking contributions to theoretical physics.

Personal History and Legacies

Although many believed Szilard would stay a bachelor for the remainder of his years, he married Gertrud Weiss in 1951, at the age of 53. They were childless.
Throughout his later years, he battled bladder cancer and underwent cobalt therapy. On May 30, 1964, while sleeping, the erudite scientist died of a heart attack.

Estimated Net worth

Leo is one of the wealthiest physicists and is listed on the list of the most popular physicists. Leo Szilard’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.