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Ted Taylor
Born (1925-07-11)July 11, 1925
Mexico City, Mexico
Died October 28, 2004(2004-10-28) (aged 79)
Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Citizenship Mexico, United States
Alma mater California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University
Known for Nuclear weapon designs and nuclear disarmament advocacy
Awards E. O. Lawrence Award (1965)

Theodore Brewster Taylor (July 11, 1925 – October 28, 2004) was a Mexican-born, American theoretical physicist and prominent nuclear weapon designer who later in life became a nuclear disarmament advocate.

Early life

Taylor was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to American parents. His maternal grandfather was a congregationalist missionary; his father was a director of the YMCA. He spent much of his childhood in Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City. From 1943 to 1946 he served on active duty in the United States Navy. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from the California Institute of Technology, pursued graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and received a PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell University in 1954.[1]


From 1948 to 1956 he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he gained some fame as a designer of small, efficient nuclear weapons. He was assigned to explore the bounds of fission weapons in an era when most weapons designers were focused on fusion. In 1956 he moved to General Atomics, where he directed Project Orion, with his friend Lew Allen as contract manager. He also was involved in the design of small nuclear reactors to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use, the TRIGA reactors. He led the team that designed the largest pure fission bomb ever detonated, the Super Oralloy Bomb ("SOB"), which had a yield of 500 kilotons in its only test (Ivy King). He similarly designed the small "Scorpion" on the small end of the scale which is documented in John McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy. This knowledge of bombs requiring minimal amounts of fissile material contributed to his concerns about nuclear terrorism.

After the end of Project Orion, he worked for the Defense Atomic Support Agency, involved with controlling the US stockpile of nuclear weapons. Beginning in 1966 he advocated nuclear disarmament, and worked as a consultant to the United States Atomic Energy Commission from 1966 to 1968 evaluating the International Atomic Energy Agency in regard to nuclear non-proliferation. He worked as a visiting professor at University of California, Santa Cruz and Princeton University; in addition to nuclear proliferation, a topic on which he wrote several books, he studied renewable energy and energy conservation, including ice pond technology. Taylor was featured in the 1984 PBS series, The Voyage of the Mimi, starring a young Ben Affleck.

The Santa Claus Machine and Pugwash

According to Freitas and Merkle,[2] the only known extant source on Taylor’s concept of the “Santa Claus machine” is found in Nigel Calder's Spaceships of the Mind.[3] The concept would use a large mass spectrometer to separate an ion beam into atomic elements for later use in making products.

Taylor was a member of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs and attended several of its meetings during the 1980s. After his retirement he lived in Wellsville, New York. He died on October 28, 2004 of coronary artery disease.[1]

Freeman Dyson On Ted Taylor

Freeman Dyson said of Taylor, "Very few people have Ted's imagination. ... I think he is perhaps the greatest man that I ever knew well. And he is completely unknown."[4]


  • To Mars by A-Bomb: The Secret History of Project Orion
  • History Undercover: Code Name Project Orion

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Holley, Joe (2004-11-02). "Theodore Taylor Dies; Tried To Redirect Nuclear Power". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  2. Robert A. Freitas Jr., Ralph C. Merkle, Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, Landes Bioscience, Georgetown, TX, 2004;
  3. Calder, Nigel Spaceships of the Mind, Viking Press, New York, 1978.
  4. McPhee, John (1974-05-22). The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 140. ISBN 0374133735. Archived from the original on 2010-04-09. "Very few people have Ted's imagination. Very few people have his courage. He was ten or twenty years ahead of the rest of us. There is something tragic about his life. He was the Columbus who never got to go and discover America. I felt that he--much more than von Braun or anyone else--was the real Columbus of our days. I think he is perhaps the greatest man I ever knew well. And he is completely unknown." 

Further reading

External links

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