Hi, I’m Gene Dannen. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, USA. I’ve spent decades researching the life of Leo Szilard.
More about that in a moment. But first, a news update:
January 7, 2019:
I’ve updated my article A
Physicist’s Lost Love: Leo Szilard and Gerda Philipsborn.
I can now reveal a secret I’ve been keeping. My article was the key to solving a genetic mystery on tomorrow’s season premiere episode of Finding Your Roots. Watch January 8 on PBS television.
In other news: As a result of my scanning request to the National Archives of India, the files on Gerda Philipsborn’s 1937 application for British citizenship are now available through their Abhilekh Patal web portal.
September 20, 2018: Good things have been happening that I’m not yet ready to announce. One of them is coming on PBS television in January. A documentary film is also in pre-production.
August 1, 2015: I’ve been updating my Atomic Bomb: Decision pages. I’m active on Twitter @GeneDannen.
June 22, 2015: I have updated my article. It now includes comments by readers.
January 26, 2015: I’m pleased to announce the publication of an article that I think may be remembered as long as the story of the nuclear age is told... A Physicist’s Lost Love: Leo Szilard and Gerda Philipsborn
September 4, 2014: I apologize to everyone for my 13-year absence from this website. I was doing what I needed to do. The long-term health crisis in my family that was mentioned here finally ended. I will soon publish an amazing article about Szilard’s life. It’s all new information, based on my original research. I don’t think anyone who reads the article will ever forget it. I will announce its publication through my new Twitter account @GeneDannen. Stay tuned for a wonderful surprise.
I LAST PUBLISHED about
Szilard in the March 2001 issue of Physics Today. You can read that here.
BEFORE THAT, I spoke at the Leo Szilard Centennial in Budapest, Hungary on 9 February 1998. See the conference announcement for the list of speakers. Here is the full text of my talk “Leo Szilard the Inventor ” and here are some pictures of the Budapest events.
IT’S OLD NEWS NOW, BUT MANY STILL REMEMBER the publication of my article “The Einstein-Szilard Refrigerators” in the January 1997 issue of Scientific American. It was widely noticed. News reports about the article appeared in English, German, Norwegian, and Swedish. Translations were published in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Polish, Spanish, and perhaps other languages.
ALBERT EINSTEIN? Refrigerators? Surprising, but true. Science historians knew that Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein held many joint patents, filed in the late 1920s, on home refrigerators without moving parts. Unfortunately, little information beyond the patents themselves was thought to survive. After years of historical detective-work, I was able to tell almost the full story of the Einstein-Szilard collaboration — and publish the first known photographs of the refrigerator prototypes.
I HAVE MANY PEOPLE TO THANK, and you can find their names on a page of further references and notes for the article. You can also see Einstein and Szilard’s design for an absorption-type refrigerator.
So who was Szilard? To learn more,
please visit Leo Szilard Online. There’s a lot
to see and hear there, including photographs of
his boyhood house in Budapest and audio
excerpts of some of my interviews.
I’ve been researching Szilard’s life for decades, for a book on his role in the birth of the nuclear age. Why has my research taken so long? Well, consider that Szilard was one of the most versatile and mobile geniuses of the twentieth century. Let me give you a brief description of my research.
The Leo Szilard Papers are housed at UCSD in La Jolla, California. It’s a wonderful place to research, by the way; the library is only a short walk from the ocean. The UCSD collection contains more than 45 linear feet of Szilard’s letters, patents, documents, and even his slide rules.
The Szilard Papers are voluminous, but only a starting point. Much of the record of Szilard’s life must be found elsewhere, scattered in archives and personal homes throughout the world. Szilard lived in four countries, and most of my time has been spent tracking down letters, documents, and memories from his wide-ranging life.
My research has taken me across much of the landscape of the nuclear age and twentieth-century science. I’ve interviewed scientists ranging from Linus Pauling to Edward Teller. I’ve visited the Trinity site and read the Manhattan Project files in the National Archives. Szilard’s younger brother Bela told me about their early days in Budapest and Berlin. Aaron Novick, Szilard’s long-time collaborator in molecular biology, told me many stories over the years about their work at the University of Chicago. There have been so many people, and so many archives. Each holds part of Szilard’s story.
It’s been an amazing journey, and I wish I could tell you all that I’ve discovered.
It’s not too late to contact me if you have information. Do you have letters or photos? Have you seen Szilard references in an obscure archive? Is there a dusty suitcase in your attic? The bulk of Szilard’s correspondence from his Berlin years — known to include letters from Einstein — has never been found...