Leo Szilard

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Szilard, Leo

(sĭ`lärd), 1898–1964, American nuclear physicist and biophysicist, born in Hungary. He was educated at the Budapest Institute of Technology and the Univ. of Berlin, receiving a doctorate from the latter in 1922. Working at the Univ. of Chicago with Enrico Fermi, he developed the first self-sustained nuclear reactor based on uranium fission. Szilard was one of the first to realize that nuclear chain reactions could be used in bombs and was instrumental in urging the U.S. government to prepare the first atomic bomb, but he later actively protested nuclear warfare and supported the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Szilard, Leo


Born Feb. 11, 1898, in Budapest; died May 30, 1964, in La Jolla, Calif. American physicist.

Szilard studied at the Budapest Institute of Technology and the University of Berlin, graduating from the latter in 1922. He worked at the university from 1925 to 1932. In 1933 he went to England, and from 1935 to 1938 he conducted research at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (London) and at Clarendon Laboratory (Oxford). From 1939 to 1942 he worked at Columbia University in New York, and from 1942 to 1946 at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, where he became a professor in 1946.

Szilard’s research dealt mainly with nuclear physics. In 1934, working with T. Chalmers, he discovered the effect of the cleavage of the chemical bond under neutron bombardment (the Szilard-Chalmers effect). In 1939, along with others, he demonstrated the possibility of carrying out a nuclear chain reaction with fission of uranium nuclei. Together with E. Fermi, he determined the critical mass of U–235 and took part in the design of the first nuclear reactor (1942). Szilard opposed the use of the atomic bomb and advocated a total ban on nuclear testing. Beginning in 1946, he worked in biophysics and molecular biology.


“Leo Szilard.” Physics Today, 1964, vol. 17, no. 10, p. 89.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Szilard, Leo

(1898–1964) physicist; born in Budapest, Hungary. He fled from Nazi Germany to England (1933), and emigrated to the U.S.A. to work on nuclear physics at Columbia University (1938–52). Influenced by Enrico Fermi, he convinced Albert Einstein to write the famous 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging military development of atomic physics. Szilard was sent to the University of Chicago (1942–64), where he became a central figure in the Manhattan Project. He became an active advocate of peaceful uses of atomic energy, and turned his research toward bacteriology and investigations of human memory and aging. He joined the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in 1964.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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