Leo Szilard’s Legacy: Science in the Public Interest Today

Albert Einstein (left) and Leo Szilard (right) drafting the letter to President Roosevelt that prompted the Manhattan Project.
Nov 2, 2023
4:00 PM–5:00 PM

Join biographer William Lanouette and geneticist Matthew Meselson as they celebrate the 125th anniversary of Leo Szilard’s birth and the Szilard archive held in UC San Diego Library’s Special Collections & Archives

Lanouette and Meselson will describe Szilard’s contrarian approach to science and public policy. Feli Hartung, a U.S. History Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego, will moderate a Q&A session with Lanouette and Meselson after their presentations.

In science, Szilard first envisioned nuclear chain reactions for energy and bombs, and with Enrico Fermi, codesigned the world’s first reactor. His broadened research redefined basic concepts in molecular biology and he helped found The Salk Institute for Biological Studies and other institutions.

In public policy, Szilard drafted Einstein’s 1939 letter to President Roosevelt that prompted the Manhattan Project, led fellow scientists who opposed dropping A-bombs on Japan, gained Soviet leader Khrushchev’s assent to a Moscow-Washington “Hotline” and created arms-control groups that thrive today. All of this he did with wit and humor.


Image Credit: CriticalPast

Image Description: In the 1946 March of Time film “Atomic Power,” Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard re-create the day in 1939 when they drafted the letter to President Franklin Roosevelt that led to US work on nuclear weapons.