Gene Dannen's Home Page

[Photo of Gene Dannen]

Hi, I'm Gene Dannen. I live in Corvallis, Oregon, USA. I spend most of my time researching the life of Leo Szilard.

More about that in a moment. But first, a news update:

IMPORTANT NOTICE, SPRING 2001: A long-term health crisis in my family is taking all of my time. Please do not send me non-essential email. Please read my latest work in the March 2001 issue of Physics Today.

THE TOP STORY is the Leo Szilard Centennial. I spoke at the centenary conference in Budapest, Hungary on 9 February 1998. See the conference announcement for the list of speakers. Here is the full text of my talk, and here are some pictures of the Budapest events.

THE OTHER BIG STORY is still 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 have been 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. (It's a 34k image, and it prints-out nicely.) But the full article is not available on the Web. Visit your library!


So who was Szilard? To learn more, please visit Leo Szilard Online. There's a lot to see and hear there, including cool new photographs of his boyhood house in Budapest and audio excerpts of some of my interviews.

I've been researching Szilard's life since 1981, 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 U.C.S.D. 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 rule.

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 far-flung 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 be more specific and tell you all that I've discovered. Sorry, but I can't put the "good stuff" on the web. Publication of my "good stuff" has started at long last with Scientific American.

I'm still following some promising research leads, but I'm also trying to finish my book manuscript. Now is the time 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...

If you knew Leo Szilard,
or have any new information about him,
I would love to hear from you.

Gene Dannen
gene@dannen.com
3815 N.W. Sylvan Drive
Corvallis OR 97330-1713
U.S.A.