Nuclear physicist, noted for his work on nuclear fission.
The oldest of three children, illness led Szilard to receive much of his early education at home. Initially studying electrical engineering, in 1920 Szilard went to Berlin and received a doctorate in physics in 1922.
While in Berlin, working as a researcher at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Szilard began to patent a series of discoveries, including devices that anticipated later particle accelerators.
Szilard left Germany for England in 1933, following Hitler's assumption of power. In England he developed the concept of a nuclear chain reaction. Moving to the USA in 1938, he learned of Hahn and Strassman's discovery of fission in Germany.
Realising that fission would be the key to unlocking nuclear energy, Szilard became a central figure in the race to build the atomic bomb, establishing the Manhattan project and contributing extensively to its plutonium production branch.
Throughout his life Szilard possessed considerable social consciousness. After fleeing Nazi Germany, he worked hard to find jobs for other refugee scientists. Later he wrote extensively on arms control and war prevention, and lobbied hard for civilian control over the peaceful development of nuclear energy.