Szilard Papers to be Digitized

Papers Document the Making of the Atom Bomb

Physicist Leo Szilard.

Thanks to a $93,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the UC San Diego Library has begun digitizing the papers of Leo Szilard, one of the nation's most influential scientists who played an essential role in the development of the atomic bomb.

Leo Szilard's papers, given their historical importance as well as Szilard's influence in the scientific community, are heavily used by scholars, journalists, and other researchers. The Szilard papers reveal the back story of how the atomic bomb was created, and the moral and ethical dilemmas that its creation caused for Szilard and his fellow scientists. 

Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein working on Einstein's letter to President Roosevelt

The digitization project is expected to take approximately two years and will be administered by Lynda Claassen, director of the Library's Mandeville Special Collections, which houses the Szilard papers.

Extending from 1938 to 1998, the Szilard materials chronicle the birth of the nuclear age, the work of the Manhattan Project, which Szilard helped to create, and the beginnings of the study of molecular biology. While the physicist and inventor played an important role in the development of the atomic bomb, he was a passionate advocate for global arms control and argued for using the bomb as a deterrent, not as a force for destruction.  

A page from the fateful letter that led to the creation of the Manhattan Project

A page from the fateful letter that led to the creation of the Manhattan Project

More than 50,000 items will be digitized through the project, including some 550 photographs, as well as several hours of video and audio recordings. The papers include correspondence with numerous fellow scientists, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Jonas Salk, Edward Teller and Linus Pauling. The collection also includes drafts, figures and notes related to Szilard's patents, including an early patent in refrigeration held with Einstein and the patent for a "neutronic reactor" developed with Fermi.

While this collection has been well-used by scholars and researchers, making these materials available digitally will significantly increase their usage. According to Claassen, it will also will expand awareness of Szilard's work and the example he provided of how scientists can operate more fully in society, impacting not only the direction of science, but also the world of politics and humanitarianism.

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Domain Editor

Dolores Davies

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