Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist and government adviser, who
directed the development of the first atomic bombs. To scientists, he was not
only the builder of the atomic bomb and a pioneer in atomic energy, but a master
of many languages, a good conversationalist and a brilliant mathematician. He
was also a writer, and an expert in both the history of architecture and the
religions of the world. Oppenheimer, who was born in New York City on April 22,
1904, and educated at Harvard University and the Universities of Cambridge and
Gottingen, grew up in a middle class neighborhood. He was raised by his mother,
who was an artist who provided a nice apartment with a subdued, tasteful
atmosphere. His grandfather came from Germany where he was a peasant farmer and
grain merchant. The Oppenheimers family business was importing fabric for the
clothing industry. As a child in grade school, Oppenheimer excelled in all
subjects. This continued straight through all of his schooling. During his years
at Harvard University, Oppenheimer excelled in Latin, Greek, physics and
chemistry. He also published poetry and studied Oriental philosophy. After
graduating in 1925, he sailed to England to do research in the Cavendish
Laboratory at Cambridge University , which, under the leadership of Lord
Rutherford, had an international reputation for its pioneering studies on atomic
structure. Oppenheimer was fortunate to enter physics in 1925 because that is
when modern quantum mechanics came into being. He was one of the first
scientists to use quantum mechanics for the exploration of problems which had
been insoluble with the old quantum theory. While at Cambridge, Oppenheimer had
the opportunity to work with the British scientific community in its efforts to
advance the cause of atomic research. Shortly thereafter, Max Born invited him
to Gottingen University, where he met other prominent physicists, such as Niels
Bohr and Paul Dirac, and where, in 1927, he received his doctorate. He then
returned to the United States. After serving with the International Education
Board from 1928 to 1929, Oppenheimer became a professor of physics at the
University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology
where he worked from1929 to 1947. There he built up large schools of theoretical
physics. He was noted for his contributions relating to the quantum theory, the
theory of relativity, cosmic rays, positrons, and neutron stars. He was also
able to show that a baffling movement of a deuteron (heavy hydrogen nucleus),
being loosely bound, surrenders its neutron on entering the field of a heavy
nucleus. The effect was that the heavy nucleus captures the stripped neutron,
becomes unstable and then radioactive. This discovery helped to later develop
the hydrogen bomb, which is thousands of times more powerful than the atomic
bomb. In his early years of teaching, Oppenheimer had little success and many
students complained to the head of the physics department about how quiet he was
and how he overestimated his audience. The department head, Raymond T. Birge,
knew that Oppenheimer already knew that he was not getting through to the
students and therefore did not need to be told. Soon enough he began to interact
with his audience by dropping his pace of delivery and going to great lengths to
make connections between ideas clearer. By doing this he attracted a small group
of some of the brightest students. These students thought of him as a brilliant
lecturer and some remarked that he was one of their most inspiring professors.

In 1940 Oppenheimer married a woman named Katherine Harrison. They had one son
whom they named Peter and a daughter whom they named Katherine. They lived in a
beautiful house on Eagle Hill in the San Francisco Bay area. During a leave of
absence that lasted from 1943 until 1945, Oppenheimer served as director of the
atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico. After warnings from Albert
Einstein and Leo Szilard, both respected scientists, that the world would be in
grave danger if the Nazis were the first to create an atomic bomb, Oppenheimer
began to seek a process for the separation of uranium-235 from natural uranium.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

He also strove to discover a way to determine the critical mass of uranium
required to make such a bomb. On July 16, 1945, the joint effort of outstanding
scientists at Los Alamos created the first nuclear explosion. This took place at
Alamogordo, New Mexico. That October, Oppenheimer resigned from the project. His
leadership and organizational skills during the project earned him the
Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946. In 1947 Oppenheimer became director of the
Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, serving there until the
year before his death. He was also chairman of the General Advisory Committee of
the Atomic Energy Commission, or AEC, from 1947 to 1952 and served thereafter as
an adviser. In 1954, however, he was suspended from this position on charges
about his past association with Communists. Oppenheimer had been notified of a
military security report that was unfavorable of him and that dealt with his
alleged associations with Communists in the past. One of these alleged
associations was with his wife and brother who were both known to be Communists.

He also had no close friends that were not Communists. He had made substantial
sums of money monthly to the Communist party which further contributed to his
indictment. There was also evidence that his ties with Communism had survived
the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Soviet attack on Finland, that he belonged only to
Communist organizations apart from professional affiliations. The people whom he
had recruited into the early wartime Berkeley project were exclusively
Communists and he had been instrumental in securing recruits for the Communist
party, but his worst and most incriminating action was certainly his frequent
contact with Soviet espionage agents. During the war, Oppenheimer was
responsible for employing many Communists, some of them being non-technical, at
wartime Los Alamos. He selected one of these individuals to write the official
Los Alamos history. He was also accused of delaying the naming of Soviet agents
and of opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb. A security hearing that
followed declared him not guilty of treason, but ruled that he should not have
access to military secrets. It was a powerful case that basically tried to label
Oppenheimer as a Communist. It is important to remember that all of the
accusations were alleged and came without proof, but the question still remains
today as to weather Oppenheimer was simply subject to bad coincidences or if the
accusations really had any significance. As a result of the trial,
Oppenheimers contract as adviser to the Atomic Energy Commission was
cancelled. This action reflected the political atmosphere of the time, as well
as the dislike of some politicians and military figures for Oppenheimer’s
opposition to development of the hydrogen bomb and his support of arms control.

The Federation of American Scientists stood behind him and protested the trial.

During this time he wrote his book Science and the Common Understanding. He also
wrote Lectures on Electrodynamics which wasnt released until 1970.

Subsequently, efforts were made to clear Oppenheimers name, and in 1963 the
AEC conferred on him its highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award. This prize
carries with it a purse of $50,000. He devoted his final years to study of the
relationship between science and society. He died in Princeton on February 18,



I'm Lydia!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out