Augusta “Mici” Teller, born Augusta Maria Harkányi (1909-2000) was a Hungarian-American mathematician and wife of Manhattan Project physicist Edward Teller.
In April 1943, Mici joined Edward at Los Alamos where she began to work part-time in the computations division. Within the department, she worked alongside other wives of Los Alamos scientists and workers under Donald Flanders, the T-5 group leader in the Theoretical Division headed by Hans Bethe.
In 1944, Mici’s brother, Suki, was killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp. This terrible news brought Mici a great amount of grief and inhibited her from easily talking about her brother. In the late 1940s, the Tellers relocated from Los Alamos to the Chicago area where they began to work at Argonne National Laboratory. Mici worked on an early version of the computer while at the facility.
The Tellers returned to the Los Alamos facility in the early 1950s. Working with Nick Metropolis, Marshall Rosenbluth and Ariana Rosenbluth, the Tellers helped to develop a program for the computer built by Metropolis. As put in Teller’s memoir, the program used a “repetitive application of probabilistic selection to describe a simple two-dimensional model of a liquid.” Together, they designed the first practical application of the Monte Carlo system, which was a statistical procedure introduced by Stan Ulam with the help of John von Neumann. In 1953, the group published a paper entitled “Equation of State Calculations by Fast Computing Machines” in the Journal of Chemical Physics.
The Tellers had two children: Paul and Wendy.
Augusta Maria “Mici” Harkányi was born on April 30, 1909, in Hungary. Her father Ede Harkányi, a dedicated and influential Social Democrat, died a few years before World War I. A few years later, her mother remarried Aladar Schütz, a pediatrician. She had one brother, Ede (nicknamed Suki), and two step-brothers, Steven and Gávor.
Mici first met Edward Teller, a friend of her older brother Ede, in 1924. In his memoir, Edward described Mici as an independent and free spirited woman. In 1926, Mici began to study mathematics at the University of Budapest. During her time there, she also taught summer school at Odenwald Schule in Germany. She earned a Teacher’s Diploma from the University of Budapest in 1931.
Despite her close relationship with Edward, she decided to break up with him and move to the United States to study abroad for a few years. At the University of Pittsburgh, she studied sociology and psychology while earning her Masters in Personnel Work in 1933.
After returning to Hungary following her study-abroad, she reconnected with Teller, and they married on February 24, 1934, in Budapest. With Edward receiving attractive job offers and Mici having a strong desire to return to America, the couple moved to the United States in 1935. Both Mici and Edward decided to naturalize and they became American citizens on March 6, 1941.
In the late 1950s, the Tellers relocated to California where they lived for the rest of their lives. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Mici ran the Bay Area Pilot Project, a scholarship program for high school students planning to pursue undergraduate studies in science and mathematics.
At the age of 91, Augusta “Mici” Teller died from lung disease on June 4, 2000.
See Edward Teller’s Memoirs: A Twentieth-Century Journey in Science and Politics for more information about Edward and Augusta “Mici” Teller.