Robert Oppenheimer (April 22, 1904 February 18,
1967) was an American theoretical physicist and professor
of physics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Along with Enrico Fermi, he is often called the "father
of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan
Project, the World War II project that developed the first
nuclear weapons. The first atomic bomb was detonated on
July 16, 1945, in the Trinity test in New Mexico; Oppenheimer
remarked later that it brought to mind words from the
Bhagavad Gita: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer
Robert Oppenheimer, c. 1944
the war, he became a chief advisor to the newly created
United States Atomic Energy Commission and used that position
to lobby for international control of nuclear power to
avert nuclear proliferation and an arms race with the
Soviet Union. After provoking the ire of many politicians
with his outspoken opinions during the Second Red Scare,
he had his security clearance revoked in a much-publicized
hearing in 1954, and was effectively stripped of his direct
political influence; he continued to lecture, write and
work in physics. A decade later, President John F. Kennedy
awarded (and Lyndon B. Johnson presented) him with the
Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.
notable achievements in physics include the BornOppenheimer
approximation for molecular wavefunctions, work on the
theory of electrons and positrons, the OppenheimerPhillips
process in nuclear fusion, and the first prediction of
quantum tunneling. With his students, he also made important
contributions to the modern theory of neutron stars and
black holes, as well as to quantum mechanics, quantum
field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays. As
a teacher and promoter of science, he is remembered as
a founding father of the American school of theoretical
physics that gained world prominence in the 1930s. After
World War II, he became director of the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton.
was born in New York City on April 22, 1904, to Julius
Oppenheimer, a wealthy Jewish textile importer who had
immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1888,
and Ella Friedman, a painter. In 1912, the family moved
to an apartment on the eleventh floor of 155 Riverside
Drive, near West 88th Street, Manhattan, an area known
for luxurious mansions and town houses. Their art collection
included works by Pablo Picasso and Édouard Vuillard,
and at least three original paintings by Vincent van Gogh.
Robert had a younger brother, Frank, who also became a
was initially schooled at Alcuin Preparatory School, and
in 1911, entered the Ethical Culture Society School. This
had been founded by Felix Adler to promote a form of ethical
training based on the Ethical Culture movement, whose
motto was "Deed before Creed". His father had
been a member of the Society for many years, serving on
its board of trustees from 1907 to 1915. Oppenheimer was
a versatile scholar, interested in English and French
literature, and particularly in mineralogy. He completed
the third and fourth grades in one year, and skipped half
the eighth grade. During his final year, he became interested
in chemistry. He entered Harvard College a year late,
at age 18, because he suffered an attack of colitis while
prospecting in Joachimstal during a family summer vacation
in Europe. To help him recover from the illness, his father
enlisted the help of his English teacher Herbert Smith
who took him to New Mexico, where Oppenheimer fell in
love with horseback riding and the southwestern United
addition to majoring in chemistry, he was also required
by Harvard's rules to study history, literature, and philosophy
or mathematics. He made up for his late start by taking
six courses each term and was admitted to the undergraduate
honor society Phi Beta Kappa. In his first year, he was
admitted to graduate standing in physics on the basis
of independent study, which meant he was not required
to take the basic classes and could enroll instead in
advanced ones. A course on thermodynamics taught by Percy
Bridgman attracted him to experimental physics. He graduated
summa cum laude in three years.
1924, Oppenheimer was informed that he had been accepted
into Christ's College, Cambridge. He wrote to Ernest Rutherford
requesting permission to work at the Cavendish Laboratory.
Bridgman provided Oppenheimer with a recommendation, which
conceded that Oppenheimer's clumsiness in the laboratory
made it apparent his forte was not experimental but rather
theoretical physics. Rutherford was unimpressed, but Oppenheimer
went to Cambridge in the hope of landing another offer.
He was ultimately accepted by J. J. Thomson on condition
that he complete a basic laboratory course. He developed
an antagonistic relationship with his tutor, Patrick Blackett,
who was only a few years his senior. While on vacation,
as recalled by his friend Francis Ferguson, Oppenheimer
once confessed that he had left an apple doused with noxious
chemicals on Blackett's desk. While Ferguson's account
is the only detailed version of this event, Oppenheimer's
parents were alerted by the university authorities who
considered placing him on probation, a fate prevented
by his parents successfully lobbying the authorities.
tall, thin chain smoker, who often neglected to eat during
periods of intense thought and concentration, Oppenheimer
was marked by many of his friends as having self-destructive
tendencies. A disturbing event occurred when he took a
vacation from his studies in Cambridge to meet up with
his friend Francis Fergusson in Paris. Fergusson noticed
that Oppenheimer was not well and to help distract him
from his depression told Oppenheimer that he (Fergusson)
was to marry his girlfriend Frances Keeley. Robert did
not take the news well. He jumped on Fergusson and tried
to strangle him. Although Ferguson easily fended off the
attack, the episode convinced him of Oppenheimer's deep
psychological troubles. Plagued throughout his life by
periods of depression, Oppenheimer once told his brother,
"I need physics more than friends".
1926, he left Cambridge for the University of Göttingen
to study under Max Born. Göttingen was one of the
world's leading centers for theoretical physics. Oppenheimer
made friends who went on to great success, including Werner
Heisenberg, Pascual Jordan, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac,
Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller. He was known for being
too enthusiastic in discussion, sometimes to the point
of taking over seminar sessions. This irritated some of
Born's other students so much that Maria Goeppert presented
Born with a petition signed by herself and others threatening
a boycott of the class unless he made Oppenheimer quiet
down. Born left it out on his desk where Oppenheimer could
read it, and it was effective without a word being said.
Kamerlingh Onnes' Laboratory in Leiden, Netherlands, 1926.
Oppenheimer is in the second row, third from the left.
obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree in March 1927
at age 23, supervised by Born. After the oral exam, James
Franck, the professor administering, reportedly said,
"I'm glad that's over. He was on the point of
questioning me." Oppenheimer published more than
a dozen papers at Göttingen, including many important
contributions to the new field of quantum mechanics. He
and Born published a famous paper on the Born-Oppenheimer
approximation, which separates nuclear motion from electronic
motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules, allowing
nuclear motion to be neglected to simplify calculations.
It remains his most cited work.
was awarded a United States National Research Council
fellowship to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
in September 1927. Bridgman also wanted him at Harvard,
so a compromise was reached whereby he split his fellowship
for the 192728 academic year between Harvard in
1927 and Caltech in 1928. At Caltech, he struck up a close
friendship with Linus Pauling, and they planned to mount
a joint attack on the nature of the chemical bond, a field
in which Pauling was a pioneer, with Oppenheimer supplying
the mathematics and Pauling interpreting the results.
Both the collaboration and their friendship were nipped
in the bud when Pauling began to suspect Oppenheimer of
becoming too close to his wife, Ava Helen Pauling. Once,
when Pauling was at work, Oppenheimer had arrived at their
home and invited Ava Helen to join him on a tryst in Mexico,
though she refused and reported the incident to her husband.
The invitation, and her apparent nonchalance about it,
disquieted Pauling, and he ended his relationship with
Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer later invited him to become head
of the Chemistry Division of the Manhattan Project, but
Pauling refused, saying he was a pacifist.
the autumn of 1928, Oppenheimer visited Paul Ehrenfest's
institute at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands,
where he impressed them by giving lectures in Dutch, despite
having little experience with the language. There, he
was given the nickname of Opje, later anglicized by his
students as "Oppie". From Leiden, he continued
on to the ETH in Zurich to work with Wolfgang Pauli on
quantum mechanics and the continuous spectrum. Oppenheimer
respected and liked Pauli and may have emulated his personal
style as well as his critical approach to problems.
returning to the United States, Oppenheimer accepted an
associate professorship from the University of California,
Berkeley, where Raymond T. Birge wanted him so badly that
he expressed a willingness to share him with Caltech.
University of California, Berkeley, where Oppenheimer
taught from 1929 to 1943
his Berkeley professorship began, Oppenheimer was diagnosed
with a mild case of tuberculosis and, with his brother
Frank, spent some weeks at a ranch in New Mexico, which
he leased and eventually purchased. When he heard the
ranch was available for lease, he exclaimed, "Hot
dog!", and later called it Perro Caliente, literally
"hot dog" in Spanish. Later, he used to say
that "physics and desert country" were his "two
great loves". He recovered from the tuberculosis
and returned to Berkeley, where he prospered as an adviser
and collaborator to a generation of physicists who admired
him for his intellectual virtuosity and broad interests.
His students and colleagues saw him as mesmerizing: hypnotic
in private interaction, but often frigid in more public
settings. His associates fell into two camps: one that
saw him as an aloof and impressive genius and aesthete,
the other that saw him as a pretentious and insecure poseur.
His students almost always fell into the former category,
adopting his walk, speech, and other mannerisms, and even
his inclination for reading entire texts in their original
languages. Hans Bethe said of him:
Probably the most important ingredient he brought to
his teaching was his exquisite taste. He always knew what
were the important problems, as shown by his choice of
subjects. He truly lived with those problems, struggling
for a solution, and he communicated his concern to the
group. In its heyday, there were about eight or ten graduate
students in his group and about six Post-doctoral Fellows.
He met this group once a day in his office, and discussed
with one after another the status of the students
research problem. He was interested in everything, and
in one afternoon they might discuss quantum electrodynamics,
cosmic rays, electron pair production and nuclear physics.
worked closely with Nobel Prize-winning experimental physicist
Ernest O. Lawrence and his cyclotron pioneers, helping
them understand the data their machines were producing
at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 1936,
Berkeley promoted him to full professor at a salary of
$3300 per annum. In return, he was asked to curtail his
teaching at Caltech, so a compromise was reached whereby
Berkeley released him for six weeks each year, enough
to teach one term at Caltech.
did important research in theoretical astronomy (especially
as related to general relativity and nuclear theory),
nuclear physics, spectroscopy, and quantum field theory,
including its extension into quantum electrodynamics.
The formal mathematics of relativistic quantum mechanics
also attracted his attention, although he doubted its
validity. His work predicted many later finds, which include
the neutron, meson and neutron star.
his major interest was the theory of the continuous spectrum
and his first published paper, in 1926, concerned the
quantum theory of molecular band spectra. He developed
a method to carry out calculations of its transition probabilities.
He calculated the photoelectric effect for hydrogen and
X-rays, obtaining the absorption coefficient at the K-edge.
His calculations accorded with observations of the X-ray
absorption of the sun, but not hydrogen. Years later,
it was realized that the sun was largely composed of hydrogen
and that his calculations were indeed correct.
with Albert Einstein.
also made important contributions to the theory of cosmic
ray showers and started work that eventually led to descriptions
of quantum tunneling. In 1931, he co-wrote a paper on
the "Relativistic Theory of the Photoelectric Effect"
with his student Harvey Hall, in which, based on empirical
evidence, he correctly disputed Dirac's assertion that
two of the energy levels of the hydrogen atom have the
same energy. Subsequently, one of his doctoral students,
Willis Lamb, determined that this was a consequence of
what became known as the Lamb shift, for which Lamb was
awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1955.
worked with his first doctoral student, Melba Phillips,
on calculations of artificial radioactivity under bombardment
by deuterons. When Ernest Lawrence and Edwin McMillan
bombarded nuclei with deuterons they found the results
agreed closely with the predictions of George Gamow, but
when higher energies and heavier nuclei were involved,
the results did not conform to the theory. In 1935, Oppenheimer
and Phillips worked out a theory now known as the Oppenheimer-Phillips
process to explain the results, a theory still in use
early as 1930, Oppenheimer wrote a paper essentially predicting
the existence of the positron, after a paper by Paul Dirac
proposed that electrons could have both a positive charge
and negative energy. Dirac's paper introduced an equation,
known as the Dirac equation, which unified quantum mechanics,
special relativity and the then-new concept of electron
spin, to explain the Zeeman effect. Oppenheimer, drawing
on the body of experimental evidence, rejected the idea
that the predicted positively charged electrons were protons.
He argued that they would have to have the same mass as
an electron, whereas experiments showed that protons were
much heavier than electrons. Two years later, Carl David
Anderson discovered the positron, for which he received
the 1936 Nobel Prize in Physics.
the late 1930s Oppenheimer became interested in astrophysics,
probably through his friendship with Richard Tolman, resulting
in a series of papers. In the first of these, a 1938 paper
co-written with Robert Serber entitled "On the Stability
of Stellar Neutron Cores", Oppenheimer explored the
properties of white dwarfs. This was followed by a paper
co-written with one of his students, George Volkoff, "On
Massive Neutron Cores", in which they demonstrated
that there was a limit, the so-called Tolman-Oppenheimer-Volkoff
limit, to the mass of stars beyond which they would not
remain stable as neutron stars and would undergo gravitational
collapse. Finally, in 1939, Oppenheimer and another of
his students, Hartland Snyder, produced a paper "On
Continued Gravitational Attraction", which predicted
the existence of what are today known as black holes.
After the Born-Oppenheimer approximation paper, these
papers remain his most cited, and were key factors in
the rejuvenation of astrophysical research in the United
States in the 1950s, mainly by John A. Wheeler.
papers were considered difficult to understand even by
the standards of the abstract topics he was expert in.
He was fond of using elegant, if extremely complex, mathematical
techniques to demonstrate physical principles, though
he was sometimes criticized for making mathematical mistakes,
presumably out of haste. "His physics was good",
said his student Snyder, "but his arithmetic awful."
published only five scientific papers, one of which was
in biophysics, after World War II, and none after 1950.
Murray Gell-Mann, a later Nobelist who, as a visiting
scientist, worked with him at the Institute for Advanced
Study in 1951, offered this opinion:
He didn't have Sitzfleisch, 'sitting flesh,' when you
sit on a chair. As far as I know, he never wrote a long
paper or did a long calculation, anything of that kind.
He didn't have patience for that; his own work consisted
of little aperçus, but quite brilliant ones. But
he inspired other people to do things, and his influence
diverse interests sometimes interrupted his focus on projects.
In 1933, he learned Sanskrit and met the Indologist Arthur
W. Ryder at Berkeley. He read the Bhagavad Gita in the
original Sanskrit and later, he cited it as one of the
books that most shaped his philosophy of life. His close
confidant and colleague, Nobel Prize winner Isidor Rabi,
later gave his own interpretation:
Oppenheimer was overeducated in those fields, which lie
outside the scientific tradition, such as his interest
in religion, in the Hindu religion in particular, which
resulted in a feeling of mystery of the universe that
surrounded him like a fog. He saw physics clearly, looking
toward what had already been done, but at the border,
he tended to feel there was much more of the mysterious
and novel than there actually was ... [he turned] away
from the hard, crude methods of theoretical physics into
a mystical realm of broad intuition.
spite of this, observers such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist
Luis Alvarez have suggested that if he had lived long
enough to see his predictions substantiated by experiment,
Oppenheimer might have won a Nobel Prize for his work
on gravitational collapse, concerning neutron stars and
black holes. In retrospect, some physicists and historians
consider this to be his most important contribution, though
it was not taken up by other scientists in his own lifetime.
The physicist and historian Abraham Pais once asked Oppenheimer
what he considered to be his most important scientific
contributions; Oppenheimer cited his work on electrons
and positrons, not his work on gravitational contraction.
Oppenheimer was nominated for the Nobel Prize for physics
three times, in 1945, 1951 and 1967, but never won.
and political life
the 1920s, Oppenheimer remained aloof from worldly matters.
He claimed that he did not read newspapers or listen to
the radio, and had only learned of the Wall Street crash
of 1929 some six months after it occurred while on a walk
with Ernest Lawrence. He once remarked that he never cast
a vote until the 1936 election. However, from 1934 on,
he became increasingly concerned about politics and international
affairs. In 1934, he earmarked three percent of his salaryabout
$100 a yearfor two years to support German physicists
fleeing from Nazi Germany. During the 1934 West Coast
Waterfront Strike, he and some of his students, including
Melba Phillips and Bob Serber, attended a longshoremen's
rally. Oppenheimer repeatedly attempted to get Serber
a position at Berkeley but was blocked by Birge, who felt
that "one Jew in the department was enough".
mother died in 1931, and he became closer to his father
who, although still living in New York, became a frequent
visitor in California. When his father died in 1937 leaving
$392,602 to be divided between Oppenheimer and his brother
Frank, Oppenheimer immediately wrote out a will leaving
his estate to the University of California for graduate
scholarships. Like many young intellectuals in the 1930s,
he was a supporter of social reforms that were later alleged
to be communist ideas. He donated to many progressive
efforts which were later branded as "left-wing"
during the McCarthy era. The majority of his allegedly
radical work consisted of hosting fund raisers for the
Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War and other anti-fascist
activity. He never openly joined the Communist Party,
though he did pass money to liberal causes by way of acquaintances
who were alleged to be Party members. In 1936, Oppenheimer
became involved with Jean Tatlock, the daughter of a Berkeley
literature professor and a student at Stanford University
School of Medicine. The two had similar political views;
she wrote for the Western Worker, a Communist Party newspaper.
broke up with Tatlock in 1939. In August that year, he
met Katherine ("Kitty") Puening Harrison, a
radical Berkeley student and former Communist Party member.
Harrison had been married three times previously. Her
first marriage lasted only a few months. Her second husband
was Joe Dallet, an active member of the Communist party,
who was killed in the Spanish Civil War. Kitty returned
to the United States where she obtained a Bachelor of
Arts degree in botany from the University of Pennsylvania.
There she married Richard Harrison, a physician and medical
researcher, in 1938. In June 1939, Kitty and Harrison
moved to Pasadena, California, where he became chief of
radiology at a local hospital and she enrolled as a graduate
student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Oppenheimer and Kitty created a minor scandal by sleeping
together after one of Tolman's parties. In the summer
of 1940, she stayed with Oppenheimer at his ranch in New
Mexico. She finally asked Harrison for a divorce when
she found out she was pregnant. When he refused, she obtained
an instant divorce in Reno, Nevada, and married Oppenheimer
on November 1, 1940.
first child Peter was born in May 1941, and their second
child, Katherine ("Toni"), was born in Los Alamos,
New Mexico, on December 7, 1944. During his marriage,
Oppenheimer continued his affair with Jean Tatlock. Later,
their continued contact became an issue in his security
clearance hearings because of Tatlock's Communist associations.
Many of Oppenheimer's closest associates were active in
the Communist Party in the 1930s or 1940s. They included
his brother Frank, Frank's wife Jackie, Kitty, Jean Tatlock,
his landlady Mary Ellen Washburn, and several of his graduate
students at Berkeley.
he joined the Manhattan Project in 1942, Oppenheimer wrote
on his personal security questionnaire that he [Oppenheimer]
had been "a member of just about every Communist
Front organization on the West Coast". Years later,
he claimed that he did not remember saying this, that
it was not true, and that if he had said anything along
those lines, it was "a half-jocular overstatement".
He was a subscriber to the People's World, a Communist
Party organ, and he testified in 1954, "I was
associated with the Communist movement." From
1937 to 1942, in the midst of the Great Purge and Hitler-Stalin
pact, Oppenheimer was a member at Berkeley of what he
called a "discussion group", which was later
identified by fellow members, Haakon Chevalier and Gordon
Griffiths, as a "closed" (secret) unit of the
Communist Party for Berkeley faculty.
badge photo from Los Alamos
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recorded that J.
Robert Oppenheimer attended a meeting in the home of self-proclaimed
Communist Haakon Chevalier, that the Communist Party's
California state chairman William Schneiderman, and Isaac
Folkoff, West Coast liaison between the Communist Party
and NKVD, attended in Fall 1940, during the Hitler-Stalin
pact. Shortly thereafter, the FBI added Oppenheimer to
its Custodial Detention Index, for arrest in case of national
emergency, and listed him as "Nationalistic Tendency:
Communist". Debates over Oppenheimer's Party membership
or lack thereof have turned on very fine points; almost
all historians agree he had strong left-wing sympathies
during this time and interacted with Party members, though
there is considerable dispute over whether he was officially
a member of the Party. At his 1954 security clearance
hearings, he denied being a member of the Communist Party,
but identified himself as a fellow traveler, which he
defined as someone who agrees with many of the goals of
Communism, but without being willing to blindly follow
orders from any Communist party apparatus.
the development of the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer was under
investigation by both the FBI and the Manhattan Project's
internal security arm for his past left-wing associations.
He was followed by Army security agents during a trip
to California in June 1943 to visit his former girlfriend,
Jean Tatlock, who was suffering from depression. Oppenheimer
spent the night in her apartment. Tatlock committed suicide
on January 4, 1944, which left Oppenheimer deeply grieved.
In August 1943, he volunteered to Manhattan Project security
agents that George Eltenton, whom he did not know, had
solicited three men at Los Alamos for nuclear secrets
on behalf of the Soviet Union. When pressed on the issue
in later interviews, Oppenheimer admitted that the only
person who had approached him was his friend Haakon Chevalier,
a Berkeley professor of French literature, who had mentioned
the matter privately at a dinner at Oppenheimer's house.
Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., the director
of the Manhattan Project, thought Oppenheimer was too
important to the project to be ousted over this suspicious
behavior. On July 20, 1943, he wrote to the Manhattan
In accordance with my verbal directions of July 15,
it is desired that clearance be issued to Julius Robert
Oppenheimer without delay irrespective of the information
which you have concerning Mr Oppenheimer. He is absolutely
essential to the project.
October 9, 1941, shortly before the United States entered
World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved
a crash program to develop an atomic bomb. In May 1942,
National Defense Research Committee Chairman James B.
Conant, who had been one of Oppenheimer's lecturers at
Harvard, invited Oppenheimer to take over work on fast
neutron calculations, a task that Oppenheimer threw himself
into with full vigor. He was given the title "Coordinator
of Rapid Rupture", specifically referring to the
propagation of a fast neutron chain reaction in an atomic
bomb. One of his first acts was to host a summer school
for bomb theory at his building in Berkeley. The mix of
European physicists and his own students a group
including Robert Serber, Emil Konopinski, Felix Bloch,
Hans Bethe and Edward Teller busied themselves
calculating what needed to be done, and in what order,
to make the bomb.
group of physicists at a 1946 Los Alamos colloquium. In
the front row are left to right: Norris Bradbury,
John Manley, Enrico Fermi and J.M.B. Kellogg (L-R). Behind
Manley is Oppenheimer (wearing jacket and tie),
and to his left is Richard Feynman. The army colonel on
the far left is Oliver Haywood.
In the third row between Haywood and Oppenheimer is Edward
June 1942, the US Army established the Manhattan Engineer
District to handle its part in the atom bomb project,
beginning the process of transferring responsibility from
the Office of Scientific Research and Development to the
military. In September, Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves,
Jr., was appointed director of what became known as the
Manhattan Project. Groves selected Oppenheimer to head
the project's secret weapons laboratory, a choice which
surprised many, as Oppenheimer was not known to be politically
aligned with the conservative military, nor to be an efficient
leader of large projects. The fact that he did not have
a Nobel Prize, and might not have the prestige to direct
fellow scientists, did concern Groves. However, he was
impressed by Oppenheimer's singular grasp of the practical
aspects of designing and constructing an atomic bomb,
and by the breadth of his knowledge. As a military engineer,
Groves knew that this would be vital in an interdisciplinary
project that would involve not just physics, but chemistry,
metallurgy, ordnance and engineering. Groves also detected
in Oppenheimer something that many others did not, an
"overweening ambition" that Groves reckoned
would supply the drive necessary to push the project to
a successful conclusion. Isidor Rabi considered the appointment
"a real stroke of genius on the part of General Groves,
who was not generally considered to be a genius".
and Groves decided that for security and cohesion they
needed a centralized, secret research laboratory in a
remote location. Scouting for a site in late 1942, Oppenheimer
was drawn to New Mexico, not far from his ranch. On November
16, 1942, Oppenheimer, Groves and others toured a prospective
site. Oppenheimer feared that the high cliffs surrounding
the site would make his people feel claustrophobic, while
the engineers were concerned with the possibility of flooding.
He then suggested and championed a site that he knew well:
a flat mesa near Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was the site
of a private boys' school called the Los Alamos Ranch
School. The engineers were concerned about the poor access
road and the water supply, but otherwise felt that it
was ideal. The Los Alamos Laboratory was built on the
site of the school, taking over some of its buildings,
while many others were erected in great haste. There,
Oppenheimer assembled a group of the top physicists of
the time, which he referred to as the "luminaries".
Los Alamos was supposed to be a military laboratory, and
Oppenheimer and other researchers were to be commissioned
into the Army. He went so far as to order himself a lieutenant
colonel's uniform and take the Army physical test, which
he failed. Army doctors considered him underweight at
128 pounds (58 kg), diagnosed his chronic cough as tuberculosis
and were concerned about his chronic lumbosacral joint
pain. The plan to commission scientists fell through when
Robert Bacher and Isidor Rabi balked at the idea. Conant,
Groves, and Oppenheimer devised a compromise whereby the
laboratory was operated by the University of California
under contract to the War Department. It soon turned out
that Oppenheimer had hugely underestimated the magnitude
of the project; Los Alamos grew from a few hundred people
in 1943 to over 6,000 in 1945.
at first, had difficulty with the organizational division
of large groups, but rapidly learned the art of large-scale
administration after he took up permanent residence on
the mesa. He was noted for his mastery of all scientific
aspects of the project and for his efforts to control
the inevitable cultural conflicts between scientists and
the military. He was an iconic figure to his fellow scientists,
as much a symbol of what they were working toward as a
scientific director. Victor Weisskopf put it thus:
Oppenheimer directed these studies, theoretical and experimental,
in the real sense of the words. Here, his uncanny speed
in grasping the main points of any subject was a decisive
factor; he could acquaint himself with the essential details
of every part of the work. He did not direct from the
head office. He was intellectually and even physically
present at each decisive step. He was present in the laboratory
or in the seminar rooms, when a new effect was measured,
when a new idea was conceived. It was not that he contributed
so many ideas or suggestions; he did so sometimes, but
his main influence came from something else. It was his
continuous and intense presence, which produced a sense
of direct participation in all of us; it created that
unique atmosphere of enthusiasm and challenge that pervaded
the place throughout its time.
1943, development efforts were directed to a plutonium
gun-type fission weapon called "Thin Man". Initial
research on the properties of plutonium was done using
cyclotron-generated plutonium-239, which was extremely
pure but could only be created in tiny amounts. When Los
Alamos received the first sample of plutonium from the
X-10 Graphite Reactor in April 1944, a problem was discovered:
reactor-bred plutonium had a higher concentration of plutonium-240,
making it unsuitable for use in a gun-type weapon. In
July 1944, Oppenheimer abandoned the gun design in favor
of an implosion-type weapon. Using chemical explosive
lenses, a sub-critical sphere of fissile material could
be squeezed into a smaller and denser form. The metal
needed to travel only very short distances, so the critical
mass would be assembled in much less time. In August 1944,
Oppenheimer implemented a sweeping reorganization of the
Los Alamos laboratory to focus on implosion. He concentrated
the development efforts on the gun-type device, a simpler
design that only had to work with uranium-235, in a single
group, and this device became Little Boy in February 1945.
After a mammoth research effort, the more complex design
of the implosion device, known as the "Christy gadget"
after Robert Christy, another student of Oppenheimer's,
was finalized in a meeting in Oppenheimer's office on
February 28, 1945.
of the Army-Navy "E" Award at Los Alamos on
October 16, 1945.
Oppenheimer (left) gave his farewell speech as director
on this occasion. Robert Gordon
Sproul front, in suit, accepted the award on behalf of
the University of California.
May 1945, an Interim Committee was created to advise and
report on wartime and postwar policies regarding the use
of nuclear energy. The Interim Committee, in turn, established
a scientific panel consisting of Compton, Fermi, Lawrence
and Oppenheimer to advise it on scientific issues. In
its presentation to the Interim Committee, the scientific
panel offered its opinion not just on the likely physical
effects of an atomic bomb, but on its likely military
and political impact. This included opinions on such sensitive
issues as whether or not the Soviet Union should be advised
of the weapon in advance of its use against Japan.
joint work of the scientists at Los Alamos resulted in
the first artificial nuclear explosion near Alamogordo
on July 16, 1945, on a site that Oppenheimer codenamed
"Trinity" in mid-1944. He later said this name
was from one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets. According to
the historian Gregg Herken, this naming could have been
an allusion to Jean Tatlock, who had committed suicide
a few months previously and had in the 1930s introduced
Oppenheimer to Donne's work. Oppenheimer later recalled
that, while witnessing the explosion, he thought of a
verse from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita (XI,12):
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at
once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of
the mighty one ...
later, he would explain that another verse had also entered
his head at that time: namely, the famous verse: "ka-lo'smi
lokaks.ayakr.tpravr.ddho loka-nsama-hartumiha pravr.ttah."
(XI,32), which he translated as "I am become Death,
the destroyer of worlds."
1965, he was persuaded to quote again for a television
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people
laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent.
I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad
Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he
should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed
form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of
worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.
fireball at the Trinity nuclear test
to his brother, at the time Oppenheimer simply exclaimed,
"It worked." A contemporary account by Brigadier
General Thomas Farrell, who was present in the control
bunker at the site with Oppenheimer, summarized his reaction
Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden,
grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarcely
breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For
the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then
when the announcer shouted "Now!" and there
came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter
by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed
into an expression of tremendous relief.
Isidor Rabi noticed Oppenheimer's disconcerting triumphalism:
"I'll never forget his walk; I'll never forget
the way he stepped out of the car ... his walk was like
High Noon ... this kind of strut. He had done it."
At an assembly at Los Alamos on August 6 (the evening
of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima), Oppenheimer took
to the stage and clasped his hands together "like
a prize-winning boxer" while the crowd cheered. He
noted his regret the weapon had not been available in
time to use against Nazi Germany. However, he and many
of the project staff were very upset about the bombing
of Nagasaki, as they did not feel the second bomb was
necessary from a military point of view. He traveled to
Washington on August 17 to hand-deliver a letter to Secretary
of War Henry L. Stimson expressing his revulsion and his
wish to see nuclear weapons banned.
his services as director of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer was
awarded the Medal for Merit from President Harry S. Truman
the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Manhattan
Project became public knowledge; and Oppenheimer became
a national spokesman for science, emblematic of a new
type of technocratic power. He became a household name
and his face appeared on the covers of Life and Time.
Nuclear physics became a powerful force as all governments
of the world began to realize the strategic and political
power that came with nuclear weapons. Like many scientists
of his generation, he felt that security from atomic bombs
would come only from a transnational organization such
as the newly formed United Nations, which could institute
a program to stifle a nuclear arms race.
for Advanced Study
November 1945, Oppenheimer left Los Alamos to return to
Caltech, but he soon found that his heart was no longer
in teaching. In 1947, he accepted an offer from Lewis
Strauss to take up the directorship of the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. This meant moving
back east and leaving Ruth Tolman, the wife of his friend
Richard Tolman, with whom he had begun an affair after
leaving Los Alamos. The job came with a salary of $20,000
per annum, plus rent-free accommodation in the director's
house, a 17th-century manor with a cook and groundskeeper,
surrounded by 265 acres (107 ha) of woodlands.
for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey
brought together intellectuals at the height of their
powers and from a variety of disciplines to solve the
most pertinent questions of the age. He directed and encouraged
the research of many well-known scientists, including
Freeman Dyson, and the duo of Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao
Lee, who won a Nobel Prize for their discovery of parity
non-conservation. He also instituted temporary memberships
for scholars from the humanities, such as T. S. Eliot
and George F. Kennan. Some of these activities were resented
by a few members of the mathematics faculty, who wanted
the institute to stay a bastion of pure scientific research.
Abraham Pais said that Oppenheimer himself thought that
one of his failures at the institute was being unable
to bring together scholars from the natural sciences and
series of conferences in New York from 1947 through 1949
saw physicists switch back from war work to theoretical
issues. Under Oppenheimer's direction, physicists tackled
the greatest outstanding problem of the pre-war years:
infinite, divergent, and non-sensical expressions in the
quantum electrodynamics of elementary particles. Julian
Schwinger, Richard Feynman and Shin'ichiro Tomonaga tackled
the problem of regularization, and developed techniques
which became known as renormalization. Freeman Dyson was
able to prove that their procedures gave similar results.
The problem of meson absorption and Hideki Yukawa's theory
of mesons as the carrier particles of the strong nuclear
force were also tackled. Probing questions from Oppenheimer
prompted Robert Marshak's innovative two-meson hypothesis:
that there were actually two types of mesons, pions and
muons. This led to Cecil Frank Powell's breakthrough and
subsequent Nobel Prize for the discovery of the pion.
a member of the Board of Consultants to a committee appointed
by Truman, Oppenheimer strongly influenced the AchesonLilienthal
Report. In this report, the committee advocated creation
of an international Atomic Development Authority, which
would own all fissionable material and the means of its
production, such as mines and laboratories, and atomic
power plants where it could be used for peaceful energy
production. Bernard Baruch was appointed to translate
this report into a proposal to the United Nations, resulting
in the Baruch Plan of 1946. The Baruch Plan introduced
many additional provisions regarding enforcement, in particular
requiring inspection of the Soviet Union's uranium resources.
The Baruch Plan was seen as an attempt to maintain the
United States' nuclear monopoly and was rejected by the
Soviets. With this, it became clear to Oppenheimer that
an arms race was unavoidable, due to the mutual suspicion
of the United States and the Soviet Union, which even
Oppenheimer was starting to distrust.
the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) came into being in
1947 as a civilian agency in control of nuclear research
and weapons issues, Oppenheimer was appointed as the Chairman
of its General Advisory Committee (GAC). From this position
he advised on a number of nuclear-related issues, including
project funding, laboratory construction and even international
policy though the GAC's advice was not always heeded.
As Chairman of the GAC, Oppenheimer lobbied vigorously
for international arms control and funding for basic science,
and attempted to influence policy away from a heated arms
race. When the government questioned whether to pursue
a crash program to develop an atomic weapon based on nuclear
fusion the hydrogen bomb Oppenheimer initially
recommended against it, though he had been in favor of
developing such a weapon during the Manhattan Project.
He was motivated partly by ethical concerns, feeling that
such a weapon could only be used strategically against
civilian targets, resulting in millions of deaths. He
was also motivated by practical concerns, however, as
at the time there was no workable design for a hydrogen
bomb. Oppenheimer felt that resources would be better
spent creating a large force of fission weapons. He and
others were especially concerned about nuclear reactors
being diverted from plutonium to tritium production. They
were overridden by Truman, who announced a crash program
after the Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb
in 1949. Oppenheimer and other GAC opponents of the project,
especially James Conant, felt personally shunned and considered
retiring from the committee. They stayed on, though their
views on the hydrogen bomb were well known.
1951, however, Edward Teller and mathematician Stanislaw
Ulam developed what became known as the Teller-Ulam design
for a hydrogen bomb. This new design seemed technically
feasible and Oppenheimer changed his opinion about developing
the weapon. As he later recalled:
The program we had in 1949 was a tortured thing that you
could well argue did not make a great deal of technical
sense. It was therefore possible to argue that you did
not want it even if you could have it. The program in
1951 was technically so sweet that you could not argue
about that. The issues became purely the military, the
political and the humane problems of what you were going
to do about it once you had it.
FBI under J. Edgar Hoover had been following Oppenheimer
since before the war, when he showed Communist sympathies
as a professor at Berkeley and had been close to members
of the Communist Party, including his wife and brother.
He had been under close surveillance since the early 1940s,
his home and office bugged, his phone tapped and his mail
opened. The FBI furnished Oppenheimer's political enemies
with incriminating evidence about his Communist ties.
These enemies included Lewis Strauss, an AEC commissioner
who had long harbored resentment against Oppenheimer both
for his activity in opposing the hydrogen bomb and for
his humiliation of Strauss before Congress some years
earlier; regarding Strauss's opposition to the export
of radioactive isotopes to other nations, Oppenheimer
had memorably categorized these as "less important
than electronic devices but more important than, let us
Eisenhower (left) receives a report from Lewis L. Strauss
(right), Chairman of the Atomic
Energy Commission, on the Operation Castle hydrogen bomb
tests in the Pacific, March 30,
1954. Strauss pressed for Oppenheimer's security clearance
to be revoked.
June 7, 1949, Oppenheimer testified before the House Un-American
Activities Committee, where he admitted that he had associations
with the Communist Party in the 1930s. He testified that
some of his students, including David Bohm, Giovanni Rossi
Lomanitz, Philip Morrison, Bernard Peters and Joseph Weinberg,
had been Communists at the time they had worked with him
at Berkeley. Frank Oppenheimer and his wife Jackie testified
before the HUAC and admitted that they had been members
of the Communist Party. Frank was subsequently fired from
his University of Minnesota position. Unable to find work
in physics for many years, he became instead a cattle
rancher in Colorado. He later taught high school physics
and was the founder of the San Francisco Exploratorium.
had found himself in the middle of more than one controversy
and power struggle in the years from 1949 to 1953. Edward
Teller, who had been so uninterested in work on the atomic
bomb at Los Alamos during the war that Oppenheimer had
given him time instead to work on his own project of the
hydrogen bomb, had eventually left Los Alamos to help
found, in 1951, a second laboratory at what would become
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. There, he
could be free of Los Alamos control to develop the hydrogen
bomb. Long-range thermonuclear "strategic" weapons
delivered by jet bombers would necessarily be under control
of the new United States Air Force (USAF). Oppenheimer
had, for some years, pushed for smaller "tactical"
nuclear weapons which would be more useful in a limited
theater against enemy troops and which would be under
control of the Army. The two services fought for control
of nuclear weapons, often allied with different political
parties. The USAF, with Teller pushing its program, gained
ascendance in the Republican-controlled administration
following the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president
and Senator Brien McMahon, author of the 1946 McMahon
Act, pushed Eisenhower to revoke Oppenheimer's security
clearance. On December 21, 1953, Lewis Strauss told Oppenheimer
that his security clearance had been suspended, pending
resolution of a series of charges outlined in a letter,
and discussed his resigning. Oppenheimer chose not to
resign and requested a hearing instead. The charges were
outlined in a letter from Kenneth D. Nichols, General
Manager of the AEC. The hearing that followed in AprilMay
1954, which was initially confidential and not made public,
focused on Oppenheimer's past Communist ties and his association
during the Manhattan Project with suspected disloyal or
Communist scientists. One of the key elements in this
hearing was Oppenheimer's earliest testimony about George
Eltenton's approach to various Los Alamos scientists,
a story that Oppenheimer confessed he had fabricated to
protect his friend Haakon Chevalier. Unknown to Oppenheimer,
both versions were recorded during his interrogations
of a decade before. He was surprised on the witness stand
with transcripts of these, which he had not been given
a chance to review. In fact, Oppenheimer had never told
Chevalier that he had finally named him, and the testimony
had cost Chevalier his job. Both Chevalier and Eltenton
confirmed mentioning that they had a way to get information
to the Soviets, Eltenton admitting he said this to Chevalier
and Chevalier admitting he mentioned it to Oppenheimer,
but both put the matter in terms of gossip and denied
any thought or suggestion of treason or thoughts of espionage,
either in planning or in deed. Neither was ever convicted
of any crime.
former colleague, physicist Edward Teller, testified on
of the government at Oppenheimer's security hearing in
testified that he considered Oppenheimer loyal, but that:
In a great number of cases, I have seen Dr. Oppenheimer
act I understand that Dr. Oppenheimer acted
in a way which was for me was exceedingly hard to understand.
I thoroughly disagreed with him in numerous issues and
his actions frankly appeared to me confused and complicated.
To this extent, I feel that I would like to see the vital
interests of this country in hands which I understand
better, and therefore trust more. In this very limited
sense I would like to express a feeling that I would feel
personally more secure if public matters would rest in
led to outrage by the scientific community and Teller's
virtual expulsion from academic science. Groves, threatened
by the FBI as having been potentially part of a coverup
about the Chevalier contact in 1943, likewise testified
against Oppenheimer. Many top scientists, as well as government
and military figures, testified on Oppenheimer's behalf.
Inconsistencies in his testimony and his erratic behavior
on the stand, at one point saying he had given a "cock
and bull story" and that this was because he "was
an idiot", convinced some that he was unstable, unreliable
and a possible security risk. Oppenheimer's clearance
was revoked one day before it was due to lapse anyway.
Isidor Rabi's comment was that Oppenheimer was merely
a government consultant at the time anyway and that if
the government "didn't want to consult the guy, then
don't consult him."
his hearing, Oppenheimer testified willingly on the left-wing
behavior of many of his scientific colleagues. Had Oppenheimer's
clearance not been stripped then, he might have been remembered
as someone who had "named names" to save his
own reputation. As it happened, Oppenheimer was seen by
most of the scientific community as a martyr to McCarthyism,
an eclectic liberal who was unjustly attacked by warmongering
enemies, symbolic of the shift of scientific creativity
from academia into the military. Wernher von Braun summed
up his opinion about the matter with a quip to a Congressional
committee: "In England, Oppenheimer would have been
a seminar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute on May 20, 2009,
based on an extensive analysis of the Vassiliev notebooks
taken from the KGB archives, John Earl Haynes, Harvey
Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev confirmed that Oppenheimer
never was involved in espionage for the Soviet Union.
The KGB tried repeatedly to recruit him, but was never
successful; Oppenheimer did not betray the United States.
In addition, he had several persons removed from the Manhattan
Project who had sympathies to the Soviet Union. According
to biographer Ray Monk: "He was, in a very practical
and real sense, a supporter of the Communist Party. Moreover,
in terms of the time, effort and money spent on Party
activities, he was a very committed supporter".
in 1954, Oppenheimer spent several months of the year
living on the island of St. John in the Virgin Islands.
In 1957, he purchased a 2-acre (0.81 ha) tract of land
on Gibney Beach, where he built a spartan home on the
beach. He spent a considerable amount of time sailing
with his daughter Toni and wife Kitty.
Beach, in St John, US Virgin Islands
concerned about the potential danger to humanity arising
from scientific discoveries, Oppenheimer joined with Albert
Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joseph Rotblat and other eminent
scientists and academics to establish what would eventually
become the World Academy of Art and Science in 1960. Significantly,
after his public humiliation, he did not sign the major
open protests against nuclear weapons of the 1950s, including
the RussellEinstein Manifesto of 1955, nor, though
invited, did he attend the first Pugwash Conferences on
Science and World Affairs in 1957.
his speeches and public writings, Oppenheimer continually
stressed the difficulty of managing the power of knowledge
in a world in which the freedom of science to exchange
ideas was more and more hobbled by political concerns.
Oppenheimer delivered the Reith Lectures on the BBC in
1953, which were subsequently published as Science and
the Common Understanding. In 1955, Oppenheimer published
The Open Mind, a collection of eight lectures that he
had given since 1946 on the subject of nuclear weapons
and popular culture. Oppenheimer rejected the idea of
nuclear gunboat diplomacy. "The purposes of this
country in the field of foreign policy," he wrote,
"cannot in any real or enduring way be achieved by
coercion." In 1957, the philosophy and psychology
departments at Harvard invited Oppenheimer to deliver
the William James Lectures. An influential group of Harvard
alumni led by Edwin Ginn that included Archibald Roosevelt
protested against the decision. Some 1,200 people packed
into Sanders Theatre to hear Oppenheimer's six lectures,
entitled "The Hope of Order". Oppenheimer delivered
the Whidden Lectures at McMaster University in 1962, and
these were published in 1964 as The Flying Trapeze: Three
Crises for Physicists.
of political power, Oppenheimer continued to lecture,
write and work on physics. He toured Europe and Japan,
giving talks about the history of science, the role of
science in society, and the nature of the universe. In
September 1957, France made him an Officer of the Legion
of Honor, and on May 3, 1962, he was elected a Foreign
Member of the Royal Society in Britain. At the urging
of many of Oppenheimer's political friends who had ascended
to power, President John F. Kennedy awarded Oppenheimer
the Enrico Fermi Award in 1963 as a gesture of political
rehabilitation. Edward Teller, the winner of the previous
year's award, had also recommended Oppenheimer receive
it, in the hope that it would heal the rift between them.
A little over a week after Kennedy's assassination, his
successor, President Lyndon Johnson, presented Oppenheimer
with the award, "for contributions to theoretical
physics as a teacher and originator of ideas, and for
leadership of the Los Alamos Laboratory and the atomic
energy program during critical years." Oppenheimer
told Johnson: "I think it is just possible, Mr.
President, that it has taken some charity and some courage
for you to make this award today." The rehabilitation
implied by the award was partly symbolic, as Oppenheimer
still lacked a security clearance and could have no effect
on official policy, but the award came with a $50,000
tax-free stipend, and its award outraged many prominent
Republicans in Congress. The late President Kennedy's
widow Jacqueline, still living in the White House, made
it a point to meet with Oppenheimer to tell him how much
her husband had wanted him to have the medal. While still
a senator in 1959, Kennedy had been instrumental in voting
to narrowly deny Oppenheimer's enemy Lewis Strauss a coveted
government position as Secretary of Commerce, effectively
ending Strauss' political career. This was partly due
to lobbying by the scientific community on behalf of Oppenheimer.
June 1947. Award of honorary degrees at Harvard to Oppenheimer
(left), George C.
Marshall (third from left) and Omar N. Bradley (fifth
from left). The President of
Harvard University, James B. Conant, sits between Marshall
chain smoker since early adulthood, Oppenheimer was diagnosed
with throat cancer in late 1965 and, after inconclusive
surgery, underwent unsuccessful radiation treatment and
chemotherapy late in 1966. He fell into a coma on February
15, 1967, and died at his home in Princeton, New Jersey,
on February 18, aged 62. A memorial service was held at
Alexander Hall at Princeton University a week later, which
was attended by 600 of his scientific, political and military
associates, including Bethe, Groves, Kennan, Lilienthal,
Rabi, Smyth and Wigner. His brother Frank and the rest
of his family were there, as was the historian Arthur
Meier Schlesinger Jr., the novelist John O'Hara, and George
Balanchine, the director of the New York City Ballet.
Bethe, Kennan and Smyth gave brief eulogies. Oppenheimer
was cremated and his ashes were placed in an urn. Kitty
took his ashes to St. John and dropped the urn into the
sea off the coast, within sight of the beach house.
the death of Kitty Oppenheimer, who died of an intestinal
infection complicated by pulmonary embolism in October
1972, Oppenheimer's ranch in New Mexico was inherited
by their son Peter, and the beach property was inherited
by their daughter Katherine "Toni" Oppenheimer
Silber. Toni was refused security clearance for her chosen
vocation as a United Nations translator after the FBI
brought up the old charges against her father. In January
1977, three months after the end of her second marriage,
she committed suicide at age 32. She left the property
to "the people of St. John for a public park and
recreation area." The original house, built too close
to the coast, succumbed to a hurricane, but today, the
Virgin Islands Government maintains a Community Center
in the area.
Oppenheimer was ejected from his position of political
influence in 1954, he symbolized for many the folly of
scientists thinking they could control how others would
use their research. He has also been seen as symbolizing
the dilemmas involving the moral responsibility of the
scientist in the nuclear world. The hearings were motivated
both by politics, as Oppenheimer was seen as a representative
of the previous administration, and by personal considerations
stemming from his enmity with Lewis Strauss. The ostensible
reason for the hearing and the issue that aligned Oppenheimer
with the liberal intellectuals, Oppenheimer's opposition
to hydrogen bomb development, was based as much on technical
grounds as on moral ones. Once the technical considerations
were resolved, he supported Teller's hydrogen bomb because
he believed that the Soviet Union would inevitably construct
one too. Rather than consistently oppose the "Red-baiting"
of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Oppenheimer testified
against some of his former colleagues and students, both
before and during his hearing. In one incident, his damning
testimony against former student Bernard Peters was selectively
leaked to the press. Historians have interpreted this
as an attempt by Oppenheimer to please his colleagues
in the government and perhaps to divert attention from
his own previous left-wing ties and those of his brother.
In the end, it became a liability when it became clear
that if Oppenheimer had really doubted Peters' loyalty,
his recommending him for the Manhattan Project was reckless,
or at least contradictory.
(left) and Groves (right) at the remains of the Trinity
test in September 1945.
The white canvas overshoes prevent fallout from sticking
to the soles of their shoes.
depictions of Oppenheimer view his security struggles
as a confrontation between right-wing militarists (symbolized
by Teller) and left-wing intellectuals (symbolized by
Oppenheimer) over the moral question of weapons of mass
destruction. The question of the scientists' responsibility
toward humanity inspired Bertolt Brecht's drama Galileo
(1955), left its imprint on Friedrich Dürrenmatt's
Die Physiker, and is the basis of the opera Doctor Atomic
by John Adams (2005), which was commissioned to portray
Oppenheimer as a modern-day Faust. Heinar Kipphardt's
play In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, after appearing
on West German television, had its theatrical release
in Berlin and Munich in October 1964. Oppenheimer's objections
resulted in an exchange of correspondence with Kipphardt,
in which the playwright offered to make corrections but
defended the play. It premiered in New York in June 1968,
with Joseph Wiseman in the Oppenheimer role. New York
Times theater critic Clive Barnes called it an "angry
play and a partisan play" that sided with Oppenheimer
but portrayed the scientist as a "tragic fool and
genius". Oppenheimer had difficulty with this portrayal.
After reading a transcript of Kipphardt's play soon after
it began to be performed, Oppenheimer threatened to sue
the playwright, decrying "improvisations which were
contrary to history and to the nature of the people involved."
Later, Oppenheimer told an interviewer:
The whole damn thing [his security hearing] was a farce,
and these people are trying to make a tragedy out of it.
... I had never said that I had regretted participating
in a responsible way in the making of the bomb. I said
that perhaps he [Kipphardt] had forgotten Guernica, Coventry,
Hamburg, Dresden, Dachau, Warsaw, and Tokyo; but I had
not, and that if he found it so difficult to understand,
he should write a play about something else.
1980 BBC TV serial Oppenheimer, starring Sam Waterston,
won three BAFTA Television Awards. The Day After Trinity,
a 1980 documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the
building of the atomic bomb, was nominated for an Academy
Award and received a Peabody Award. In addition to his
use by authors of fiction, Oppenheimer's life has been
explored in numerous biographies, including American Prometheus:
The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005)
by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin which won the Pulitzer
Prize for Biography or Autobiography for 2006. A centennial
conference and exhibit were held in 2004 at Berkeley,
with the proceedings of the conference published in 2005
as Reappraising Oppenheimer: Centennial Studies and Reflections.
His papers are in the Library of Congress.
a scientist, Oppenheimer is remembered by his students
and colleagues as being a brilliant researcher and engaging
teacher, the founder of modern theoretical physics in
the United States. Because his scientific attentions often
changed rapidly, he never worked long enough on any one
topic and carried it to fruition to merit the Nobel Prize,
although his investigations contributing to the theory
of black holes may have warranted the prize had he lived
long enough to see them brought into fruition by later
astrophysicists. An asteroid, 67085 Oppenheimer, was named
in his honor, as was the lunar crater Oppenheimer.
a military and public policy advisor, Oppenheimer was
a technocratic leader in a shift in the interactions between
science and the military and the emergence of "Big
Science". During World War II, scientists became
involved in military research to an unprecedented degree.
Because of the threat fascism posed to Western civilization,
they volunteered in great numbers both for technological
and organizational assistance to the Allied effort, resulting
in such powerful tools as radar, the proximity fuse and
operations research. As a cultured, intellectual, theoretical
physicist who became a disciplined military organizer,
Oppenheimer represented the shift away from the idea that
scientists had their "head in the clouds" and
that knowledge on such previously esoteric subjects as
the composition of the atomic nucleus had no "real-world"
days before the Trinity test, Oppenheimer expressed his
hopes and fears in a quotation from the Bhagavad Gita:
In battle, in the forest, at the precipice in the mountains,
On the dark great sea, in the midst of javelins and arrows,
In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,
The good deeds a man has done before defend him.
Oppenheimer and Fying Saucers
June of 1947 Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer
together wrote a TOP SECRET six-page document entitled
"Relationships with Inhabitants of Celestial Bodies".
says the presence of unidentified spacecraft is accepted
as de facto by the military.
also deals with the subjects that you would expect competent
scientists to deal with - i.e., where do they come from,
what does the law say about it, what should we do in the
event of colonization and/or integration of peoples, and
why are they here?
the document addresses the presence of celestial astroplanes
in our atmosphere as a result of actions of military experiments
with fission and fusion devices of warfare.
and Oppenheimer encourage consideration of our potential
future situation and safety due to our present and past
actions in space. How can we avoid a perilous fate?
with extraterrestrial men presents no basically new problem
from the standpoint of international law; but the possibility
of confronting intelligent beings that do not belong to
the human race would bring up problems whose solution
it is difficult to conceive.
principle, there is no difficulty in accepting the possibility
of coming to an understanding with them, and of establishing
all kinds of relationships.
these intelligent beings were in possession of a more
or less culture, and a more or less perfect political
organization, they would have an absolute right to be
recognized as independent and sovereign peoples.
possibility may exist, that a species of homo sapiens
might have established themselves as an independent nation
on another celestial body in our solar system and evolved
culturely independently from ours.
conditions on these bodies lets say the moon,-or the planet
Mars, would have to be such as to permit a stable, and
to a certain extent, independent life, from an economic
has been speculated about the possibilities for life existing
outside of our atmosphere and beyond, always hypothetically.
Lets assume that magnesium silicates on the moon may exist
and contain up to 13 per cent water. Using energy and
machines brought to the moon, perhaps from a space station,
the rooks could be broken up, pulverized, and then backed
to drive off the water of crystallization. This could
be collected and then decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen,
using an electric. current or the short wave radiation
of the sun. The oxygen could be used for breathing purposes;
the hydrogen night be used as a fuel.
we come to the problem of determining what to do if the
inhabitants of celestial bodies, or extraterrestrial biological
entitles (EBE) desire to settle here.
If they are politically organised and possess a certain
culture similar to our own, they may be recognized as
a independent people.
2. If they consider our culture to be devoid of political
unity, they would have the right to colonize. Of course,
this colonization cannot be conducted on classic linos.
A superior form of colonizing will have to be conceived,
that could be a kind of tutelage, possibly through the
tacit approval of the United Nations. But would the United
Nations legally have the right of allowing such tutelage
over us in such a fashion?
cannot exclude the possibility that a race of extraterrestrial
people more advanced technologically and economically
may take upon itself the right to occupy another celestial
division of a celestial body into zones and the distribution
of them among other celestial states.
moral entity? The most feasible solution it seem would
be this one, submit an agreement providing far the peaceful
absorbtion of a celestial race(s) in such a manner that
our culture would remain intact with guarantees that their
presence not be revealed.
would merely be a matter of internationalizing celestial
peoples, and creating an international treaty instrument.
presence of celestial astroplanes in our atmosphere is
a direct result of our testing atomic weapons?
presence of unidentified space craft flying in our atmosphere
(and possibly maintaining orbits about our planet) is
now, however, accepted by our military.
strategists foresee the use of space craft with nuclear
warheads as the ultimate weapon of war. Attack no longer
comes from an exclusive direction, nor from a determined
country, but from the sky, with the practical impossibility
of determining who the aggressor is.
artificial satellites and missiles find their place in
space, we must consider the potential threat that unidentified
space craft pose. One must consider the fact that mis-identification
of these space craft for a intercontinental missile in
a re-entry phase of flight could lead to accidental nuclear
document was written in 1947!!