The Martians (scientists)

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Leó Szilárd circa 1960

"The Martians" (Hungarian: "A marslakók") is a term used to refer to a group of prominent Hungarian scientists (mostly, but not exclusively, physicists and mathematicians) of Jewish descent, who emigrated to the United States in the early half of the 20th century.[1]

Leo Szilard, who jokingly suggested that Hungary was a front for aliens from Mars, used this term. In an answer to the question of why there is no evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth despite the high probability of it existing, Szilárd responded: "They are already here among us – they just call themselves Hungarians." This account is featured in György Marx's book The Voice of the Martians.

Persons frequently included in the description[edit]

Paul Erdős, Paul Halmos, Theodore von Kármán, John G. Kemeny, John von Neumann, George Pólya, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner are included in The Martians group.[2]

Dennis Gabor, Ervin Bauer, Róbert Bárány, George de Hevesy, Nicholas Kurti, George Klein, Eva Klein, Michael Polanyi and Marcel Riesz are also sometimes named,[weasel words] though they did not emigrate to the United States.

Loránd Eötvös, Kálmán Tihanyi, Zoltán Lajos Bay, Victor Szebehely, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Georg von Békésy, John Harsanyi and Maria Telkes are often mentioned[weasel words] in connection.[citation needed]

Elizabeth Róna, a Hungarian nuclear chemist who emigrated to the US in 1941 to work on the Manhattan Project and discovered Uranium-Y, is a colleague, but not usually included.[citation needed]

Origin of the name[edit]

Bela Lugosi in Dracula
John von Neumann at Los Alamos

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 called Martians, a name they jocularly adopted.[citation needed]

The joke was that Hungarian scientists are actually descendants of a Martian scout force which landed in Budapest around the year 1900, and later departed after the planet was found unsuitable, but leaving behind children by several Earth women, children who all became the famous scientists. John von Neumann cited as mock evidence to support this claim the close geographic proximity of the Martians' birthplaces and the well-traceable career path, which started with an interest in chemistry and led the individual in question to German universities where he moved towards physics, at which point the Martian left Europe for the US.[citation needed]

The original story from György Marx's book The Voice of the Martians:

The universe is vast, containing myriads of stars...likely to have planets circling around them.... The simplest living things will multiply, evolve by natural selection and become more complicated till eventually active, thinking creatures will emerge.... Yearning for fresh worlds...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."

When the question was put to Edward Teller – who was particularly proud of his monogram, E.T. (abbreviation of extraterrestrial)[3] – he looked worried, and said: "Von Kármán must have been talking."[4]

According to György Marx, the extraterrestrial origin of the Hungarian scientists is proved by the fact that the names of Leó Szilárd, John von Neumann and Theodore von Kármán cannot be found on the map of Budapest, but on the Moon are craters bearing their names:[3]

There is also a crater on Mars named after Von Kármán.[citation needed]

Central European scientists who emigrated to the United States[edit]

George Olah holding a lecture in the Ceremonial Hall of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences with the title "New Opportunity in Energy Policy: Symbiosis of Economic Policy and Methanol Economy – Opportunities in Hungary"

During and after World War II many Central European scientists immigrated to the United States, mostly Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazism or Communism.[5] Several were from Budapest, and were instrumental in American scientific progress (e.g., developing the atomic bomb).

But in June 1948, I had to resign from the Institute because the political situation no longer permitted them to employ an outspoken anti-Marxist as I had been. Yet Anne [Harsanyi's later wife] did go on with her studies. But she was continually harassed by her Communist classmates to break up with me because of my political views, but she did not. This made her realize, before I did, that Hungary was becoming a completely Stalinist country, and that the only sensible course of action for us was to leave Hungary.

In October 1956, Hungary rebelled against Soviet rule, but the uprising was soon overwhelmed by drastic means and the killing of many innocent citizens. Budapest was demolished again and the future seemed cloudy. In November and December 1956, about 200,000 Hungarians, mainly young people, fled the country. With my family and with most of my group, we have also decided to go on this journey and look for a new life in the West.

List of "The Martians"[edit]

Eugene Wigner

According to György Marx, "The Martians" are as follows:

Name Hungarian name Birth year Death year High school Alma mater Field
Franz Alexander Alexander Ferenc 1891 1964 University of Göttingen Medicine
Paul Erdős Erdős Pál 1913 1996 Szent István Gimnázium (Budapest) University of Budapest Mathematics
Peter Carl Goldmark Goldmark Péter Károly 1906 1977 Technical University of Vienna
Technical University of Berlin
Paul Halmos Halmos Pál 1916 2006 University of Illinois Mathematics
John Harsanyi Harsányi János 1920 2000 Fasori Gimnázium University of Lyon
University of Budapest
University of Sydney
Stanford University
Theodore von Kármán Kármán Tódor 1881 1963 Trefort Budapest Technical University Mathematics
John G. Kemeny Kemény János 1926 1992 Berzsenyi Princeton University Mathematics
Cornelius Lanczos Lánczos Kornél 1893 1974 Ciszterci Szent István Gimnázium University of Budapest
University of Szeged
Peter Lax Lax Péter 1926 New York University Mathematics
John von Neumann Neumann János 1903 1957 Fasori Gimnázium University of Budapest Mathematics
Computer science
George Olah Oláh György 1927 2017 Piarista Gimnazium Budapest Technical University Chemistry
Egon Orowan Orován Egon 1902 1989 Leövey Klára Gimnázium University of Vienna
Technical University of Berlin
John Polanyi Polányi János 1929 Trefort University of Manchester Chemistry
George Pólya Pólya György 1887 1985 Berzsenyi University of Budapest Mathematics
Leo Szilard Szilárd Leó 1898 1964 Budapest Technical University Physics
Valentine Telegdi Telegdi Bálint 1922 2006 University of Lausanne
ETH Zurich
Edward Teller Teller Ede 1908 2003 Fasori Gimnázium


University of Karlsruhe
University of Leipzig
Eugene Wigner Wigner Jenő 1902 1995 Fasori Gimnázium Technical University of Berlin Physics


  1. ^ M. Whitman (2012) The Martian's Daughter: A Memoir, University of Michigan Press.
  2. ^ "Quiénes eran los "marcianos" húngaros que ayudaron a Estados Unidos a convertirse en una potencia científica". BBC News Mundo (in Spanish). Retrieved 2021-12-10.
  3. ^ a b A marslakók legendája – György Marx
  4. ^ Macrae, Norman (1992). John von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More. Pantheon Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-679-41308-1.
  5. ^ a b "The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1994".
  6. ^ "Oláh György".

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.
  • Marton, Kati (2006). The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World. USA: Simon & Schuster. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-74-326115-9.