Adventures of a Mathematician brings an unsung scientist back into the light
Most of us consider the late physicist Edward Teller to be the "Father of the hydrogen bomb"-and Teller did indeed champion the notion of a fusion-based "Super bomb." But hardly anyone outside of physics has heard of Stanislaw Ulam, the Polish mathematician and physicist who helped realize Teller's objective, although the extent of their respective contributions to the breakthrough Teller-Ulam design remains both highly classified and controversial. Klein's thoughtful, haunting film is less a straightforward biopic and more an elegant impromptu composed out of key events in Ulam's life, set against the backdrop of World War II and its immediate aftermath. "Ulam is one of the lead characters in three of my books. He keeps appearing because he did so many different things. A lot of ideas that we credit to other people came from their bouncing them off of Ulam." Apart from his research in pure mathematics and logic, Ulam is known for a handful of particularly influential ideas. While Teller later denied Ulam's contribution, other physicists, like nuclear weapons designer Ted Taylor, contend that Ulam deserves credit for ideas about compression and basic staging of the weapon, while Teller realized that radiation-rather than hydrodynamic pressure-was the key to ignition. Ulam got the idea for his MonteCarlo method while recuperating from surgery. Ulam quickly recognized that a computer like ENIAC would make such methods feasible. Klein encountered Ulam's memoir, Adventures of a Mathematician, while still in film school and decided to base his film on that.