Who Was Julius Robert Oppenheimer ?


Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was an American theoretical physicist and one of the key figures in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. Born on April 22, 1904, in New York City, Oppenheimer came from a wealthy and well-educated family.

Oppenheimer studied at Harvard University, where he excelled in languages, science, and philosophy. He earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1929. Oppenheimer then returned to the United States and became a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

During the 1930s, Oppenheimer became involved in left-wing political activities and social causes. However, with the outbreak of World War II, he shifted his focus to more practical and urgent matters. In 1942, he was appointed the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the secret U.S. government program tasked with developing the atomic bomb.

Under Oppenheimer’s leadership, the Manhattan Project successfully developed and tested the first atomic bombs. The Trinity test, the first detonation of a nuclear device, took place in July 1945 in New Mexico. This achievement played a crucial role in bringing an end to World War II, as the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

After the war, Oppenheimer became a prominent advocate for international control of nuclear weapons and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. However, his political views and associations with leftist groups during the 1930s came under scrutiny during the McCarthy era, and he faced a security hearing in 1954. As a result, Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked, and he was effectively marginalized in the scientific and political community.

Despite the controversy, Oppenheimer continued to contribute to science and education. He served as the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1947 to 1966. Oppenheimer died on February 18, 1967, in Princeton, New Jersey, leaving behind a complex legacy as a brilliant scientist and a controversial figure in the history of nuclear weapons development.

Later Years

After the war Oppenheimer became an advisor of the Atomic Energy Commission, lobbying for international arms control. Beginning in 1947, Oppenheimer directed the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he convened great scientists. “What we don’t understand, we explain to each other.”

His security clearance was revoked in 1954 in a hearing during the Second Red Scare. Oppenheimer’s old Communist sympathies were dredged up and his clearance was revoked a mere 32 hours before it was set to expire. Oppenheimer had made political enemies by arguing against the development of the hydrogen bomb, and revoking his clearance stripped him of political power. The scientific community was outraged at the treatment of Oppenheimer, and reviled Edward Teller, who testified against him at the hearing. For more information, please see Oppenheimer Security Hearing.

Along with Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Joseph Rotblat he established the World Academy of Art and Science in 1960. He continued lecturing around the world, and was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award in 1963. He died of throat cancer in 1967.

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Timeline

  • 1904 Apr 22nd Born in New York, New York.
  • 1911 Sep Enrolled in the Ethical Cultural School in New York City.
  • 1921 Graduated as valedictorian of his high school class.
  • 1922 After being bedridden with dysentery, spent the summer in New Mexico to recuperate.
  • 1922 Enrolled at Harvard University.
  • 1925 Began graduate work in physics at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England under J. J. Thomson.
  • 1926 Moved from Cavendish Laboratory to the University of Göttingen to finish his graduate studies under Max Born.
  • 1927 Received Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Göttingen.
  • 1927 Joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, and Caltech.
  • 1942 Jan Organized a program on fast neutron theoretical physics at the University of California at Berkeley.
  • 1942 Jun Joined the Chicago Met Lab to lead an effort on fast neutron physics, and prepared an outline for the entire neutron physics program.
  • 1942 Jul1942 Sep Assembled theoretical study group in Berkeley to examine the principles of bomb design. Emerged as the natural leader.
  • 1942 Sep 29th Proposed that a “fast-neutron lab” to study fast neutron physics and develop designs for an atomic bomb be created.
  • 1942 Oct 15th General Leslie R. Groves asked J. Robert Oppenheimer to head Project Y, planned to be the new central laboratory for weapon physics research and design.
  • 1942 Oct 19th Vannevar Bush approves Oppenheimer’s appointment in meeting with Oppenheimer and General Groves.
  • 1942 Nov 16th General Groves and Oppenheimer visit the Los Alamos, NM mesa in New Mexico and select it for “Site Y.
  • 19431945 Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory.
  • 1945 Jul 16th To his immense relief, witnessed the successful Trinity test.
  • 1945 Oct 16th Resigns as director of Los Alamos Laboratory, accepting a post at CalTech.
  • 1947 Became director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
  • 1954 Jun 29th Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked by the US Atomic Energy Commission, just 32 hours before it was set to expire.
  • 1963 Dec 2nd Received the Enrico Fermi Award.
  • 1967 Feb 18th Died in Princeton, New Jersey.


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