The Martians (group)

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"The Martians" was the name of a group of prominent scientists (mostly, but not exclusively physicists and mathematicians) who emigrated from Hungary to the United States in the early half of the 20th century.[1] They included, among others, Theodore von Kármán, John von Neumann, Paul Halmos, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, George Pólya, and Paul Erdős. They received the name from a fellow Martian Leó Szilárd, who jokingly suggested that Hungary was a front for aliens from Mars. (This is analogous to Enrico Fermi's answer to the question whether extraterrestrial beings exist: "Of course, they are already here among us: they just call themselves Hungarians.")

History and origin of the name[edit]

During WWII, many Central European scientists emigrated to the United States, mostly from Nazi Germany. Most were Jewish and several were from Budapest, and were instrumental in American scientific progress, for example developing the atomic bomb.

Since they all spoke English with a strong accent (made famous by horror actor Bela Lugosi), they were considered outsiders in American society. The Hungarian scientists were seemingly superhuman in intellect, spoke an incomprehensible native language, and came from a small obscure country. This led to them being christened Martians, a name which they adopted after finding it humorous.

The joke was that Hungarian scientists are actually descendants of a Martian scout force which landed in Budapest sometime in the late 1890s-early 1900s, but later departed after the planet was found unsuitable for their needs, but not before impregnating several women. These children became the Martians who migrated to America. John von Neumann used a number of facts as mock evidence to support this claim, such as the close geographic proximity of the Martian's birthplaces; the well-traceable general career, which started with an interest in chemistry, led the individual in question to German universities where they moved towards physics, at which point the Martian left Europe for America.

However, the original story goes like this (from Gy. Marx's book: The Martians):

"The universe is vast, containing myriads of stars, many of them not unlike our Sun. Many of these stars are likely to have planets circling around them. A fair fraction of these planets will have liquid water on their surface and a gaseous atmosphere. The energy pouring down from a star will cause the synthesis of organic compounds, turning the ocean into a thin, warm soup. These chemicals will join each other to produce a self-reproducing system. The simplest living things will multiply, evolve by natural selection and become more complicated till eventually active, thinking creatures will emerge. Civilization, science, and technology will follow. Then, yearning for fresh worlds, they will travel to neighboring planets, and later to planets of nearby stars. Eventually they should spread out all over the Galaxy. These highly exceptional and talented people could hardly overlook such a beautiful place as our Earth. - "And so, " - Fermi came to his overwhelming question, - "if all this has been happening, they should have arrived here by now, so where are they ? " - It was Leo Szilard, a man with an impish sense of humor, who supplied the perfect reply to the Fermi Paradox: - "They are among us," - he said, - "but they call themselves Hungarians. "


  1. ^ M. Whitman (2012) The Martian's Daughter: A Memoir, University of Michigan Press.

Further Reading[edit]

  • György, Marx (2000). A Marslakók Érkezése (Arrival of the Martians). Hungary: Akadémiai Kiadó. p. 456. ISBN 963-05-7723-2. 
  • Hargittai, István (2006). The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 376. ISBN 978-0-19-517845-6.