Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Robert Oppenheimer

Go To

Julius Robert Oppenheimer (April 22, 1904 – February 18, 1967) was an American theoretical physicist, born in New York City to Jewish parents (his father being an immigrant from Imperial Germany with an impressive Rags to Riches story of his own), who made many important scientific contributions but is best known for his work on the Manhattan Project. Along with the others that worked on this project, he is known as one of the fathers of the atomic bomb.

After studying at both Harvard and Cambridge, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Göttingen in 1927. While in Germany (Weimar Republic era), he met and studied with Niels Bohr, Max Born, and other prominent physicists. In 1929, Oppenheimer received offers to teach at both Caltech and the University of California at Berkeley. He accepted both offers, dividing his time between the two. By the time he returned to America, he had published several articles and had established his reputation as a theoretical physicist, making his mark on quantum theory.

In the 1930s, Oppenheimer became involved with left-wing politics. He donated to funds associated with the American Communist Party, and, in the security questionnaire he filled out when he joined the Manhattan Project, admitted to being a member of communist organizations. This admission caused many people to view him with suspicion and eventually played a large role in the loss of his security clearance.

He joined the Manhattan Project in 1941, during World War II. Eventually, the project yielded results, and in July 1945, "Trinity", the first test detonation of an atomic bomb, took place, overseen by Oppenheimer and the other scientists working on the project. Upon witnessing the sheer destructive force of the bomb, Oppenheimer was greatly disturbed. Less than a month later, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first (and to this day, only) cities destroyed by nuclear fire — Imperial Japan was targeted because the initial target, Nazi Germany, had been defeated through conventional warfare two months earlier by this point.

After the war, Oppenheimer became chairman of the influential General Advisory Committee of the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission. Having come to deeply fear further use of the weapon he had helped create in future conflicts, he used this position to lobby for international control of nuclear power and against a US-led nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. But because his outspokenness combined with the widespread Red Scare in the US in the 1950s, he fell out of favor with many powerful politicians, President Dwight D. Eisenhower barred him from access to atomic research materials (the stress of which triggered the heart attack that killed personal friend and Manhattan Project coworker William Parsons), and, following a much-publicized hearing in 1954, he lost his security clearance. In the wake of this, Oppenheimer was effectively removed from political influence, with the federal government making it clear to their other scientists that dissent would not be tolerated. Despite this, the event also led to large parts of the scientific community speaking out in Oppenheimer's support, as many scientists came to view him as a martyr and a victim of McCarthyism. To many, his example also came to symbolize the folly of scientists who believed they could control the further use of their research once the genie was out of the bottle, and the dilemmas of moral responsibility presented by science in the new nuclear age.

After his ousting, Oppenheimer continued to lecture, write, and work in physics, and eventually got some redress when President John F. Kennedy awarded (and Lyndon Johnson presented) him with the Enrico Fermi Award in 1963.

Oppenheimer was diagnosed with throat cancer in late 1965, very likely a consequence of having been a chain smoker for most of his life. He underwent treatment throughout 1966, but it ultimately proved unsuccessful. On February 15, 1967, he fell into a coma due to complications from the disease. He eventually passed away three days later on February 18, at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife, Kitty, their two children, Peter and Katherine, and his brother, Frank. Frank Oppenheimer was also a physicist of some renown, albeit less than Robert ever got. Oppenheimer was cremated, and his ashes were spread in the ocean near his vacation home on the Island of St. John.

Media featuring him:




Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): J Robert Oppenheimer


J. Robert Oppenheimer

Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was amongst the many scientists that witnessed the first successful nuclear bomb test, paraphrases a verse from the Bhagavad-Gita as a personal reflection on the results of the Manhattan Project.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / AsTheGoodBookSays

Media sources: