Tag Archives: Manhattan Project

Jew of the Week: Hyman G. Rickover

Father of the Nuclear Navy

Chaim Gedaliah Rickover (1900-1986) was born in Poland. When he was six years old his family fled to the United States to escape the Russian pogroms that had killed over 3000 Jews in Eastern Europe. The family settled in Chicago, where Rickover started working at just nine years of age for three cents an hour. He excelled academically, and after graduating from high school with honours, was nominated by a Jewish congressman to the US Naval Academy. Rickover distinguished himself while serving on a destroyer ship and was among the youngest people to ever be promoted to an officer. He went back to school and earned a Master’s in electrical engineering before doing further studies at Columbia. At 29, he decided to serve on a submarine, and was soon in command of one. His translation of the German Das Unterseeboot became the textbook of the US Submarine Service. Throughout World War II, Rickover repaired electrical systems on US Navy ships, for which he earned the Legion of Merit. Following the war, he applied to join the Manhattan Project’s new program to develop nuclear power plants. He was soon the deputy manager of the division developing nuclear-powered navy ships. Rickover saw that the greatest potential was for nuclear submarines, and ultimately succeeded in persuading the Secretary of the Navy to endorse building one. Rickover led its development, and played a central role in designing a nuclear reactor fit for submarines. His vision came to life in 1954 with the launch of the famous USS Nautilus. It put him on the cover of TIME Magazine that year. By 1958, Rickover was vice admiral of the Navy, and awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. His program would go on to produce over 200 nuclear-powered submarines, and 23 aircraft carriers and cruisers. Incredibly, none of these has ever had a meltdown – a feat credited to Rickover’s insistence on safety and obsessive attention to detail. (The Soviet Navy suffered at least 14 meltdowns in the same time period!) Rickover became known as the “Father of the Nuclear Navy”. He was the longest serving officer in US naval history, with 63 years of service under 13 presidents. A four-star admiral, his 61 civilian awards included a Presidential Medal of Freedom and two Congressional Gold Medals (an extremely rare feat). He was also awarded 15 honourary degrees, and made an honourary Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Rickover stated that he was not proud of his work, and saw it as a “necessary evil” to protect his country. He once said he wished “nuclear power had never been discovered” and hoped that the nuclear fleet would be dismantled.

Words of the Week

Cherish criticism, for it will place you on the true heights.
– Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch

Jew of the Week: Edward Teller

Father of the Hydrogen Bomb

Edward Teller

Edward Teller

Edward Teller (1908-2003) was burn in Budapest to a Hungarian-Jewish father and German-Jewish mother. He did not speak until age three, and was thought to be mentally retarded. However, he soon showed his true genius, and went on to get a degree in chemistry, followed by a Ph.D in quantum physics. Fleeing the Nazis, Teller made his way to England, then Denmark, and finally the United States, along the way working with some of the greatest scientists of the time, including Heisenberg, Fermi, and Bohr. With World War II in full swing, Teller wanted to contribute to the war effort. Together with Hans Bethe, he developed a shock-wave theory that was instrumental for missile technology. In 1942, he was invited to join the Manhattan Project, and contributed greatly to the development of the first atom bomb, despite the fact that he already came up with a stronger “fusion” bomb, and insisted on developing the latter instead. In July of 1945, Teller was among the few who witnessed history’s first atomic blast. After the Soviets tested their first nuke, President Truman pushed for the development of Teller’s more powerful fusion bomb (aka the hydrogen bomb). By 1952, Teller was already known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb”. At the same time, Teller worked to develop nuclear safety standards, and researched meltdown-proof reactors. He would go on to serve as head of some of the finest laboratories in America, and founded the Department of Applied Sciences at UC Davis. Perhaps most significantly, Teller was instrumental in helping Israel develop its nuclear technology, visiting the nascent state 6 times in the span of 4 years, advising both military chiefs and prime ministers. He convinced the Israeli government not to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and was the one who later informed the CIA that Israel was in possession of nuclear weapons. Teller continued his research until his last days; his final paper (on thorium reactors) was published posthumously. His work led to breakthroughs in chemistry, physics, nuclear, and military technology. He passed away with a list of awards appended to his name, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Purim Begins This Saturday Night!

Words of the Week

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
– Theodore Roosevelt