J. Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant physicist and known as the Father of the Atomic Bomb. A charismatic leader of rare good qualities and commonplace flaws, Oppenheimer brought an uncommon sensibility to research, teaching, and government science. After help creating the atomic bomb with the Manhattan Project he was banned from the U.S. Government during the McCarthy Trials. He opposed the idea of stockpiling nuclear weapons and was deemed a security risk. Oppenheimers life reveals the conflict between war, science and how politics collided in the 1940s through the 1960s. His case became a cause “celebre” in the world of science because of its implications concerning political and moral issues relating to the role of scientists in government.
Oppenheimer, the son of German immigrants, who had made their fortune in textiles, had the resources available in his family to further his education at a young age. At age ten Oppenheimer’s grandfather brought him some rocks to identify and as a result Oppenheimer became very interested in geology. This led him to study other sciences at a young age. By age six he had the vocabulary of an adult. He could speak well and understood the meanings of the words and where they came from. He excelled in mathematics and was computing numbers at a high school rate while in the second grade. People referred to him as a boy genius. Oppenheimer was from a Jewish family who did not believe in the Orthodox ways.
They had no temple affiliation, but did attend the Felix Alder Ethical School during grade school until high school. This school shaped many of Opp...
enheimers ideas regarding morality and political views that would later affect his life.
He studied at Harvard and was good in the classics, such as Latin, Greek, chemistry and Physics. He had published works in poetry and studied Oriental philosophy. He graduated in 1925, it took him only three years, and went to England to do research at Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. He didnt like it there and left at the end of 1925. A man named Max Born asked him to attend Gottingen University where he met prominent European physicists. Oppenheimer studied quantum mechanics in Europe in the 1920s. He learned from Ernest Rutherford, one of the pioneers of atomic theory; and from Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac, pioneers of quantum mechanics. He received his doctorate in physics while in Europe. He and Max Born developed the Born-Oppenheimer Method. The Born-Oppenheimer Approximation states that since nuclear motion is much slower than electron motion the electronic wavefunction, or energies, can be calculated assuming a fixed position of the nuclei and nuclear motion can be considered assuming and average distribution of electron density. On returning to the US, Oppenheimer pursued his study of Dirac’s theory of the electron – proposing the existence of an anti-electron (equal in charge but positively, not negatively, charged) – a “positron”, first seen by Carl Anderson in 1932. During the 1930s, Oppenheimer held positions at both the University of California, Berkeley and at the California Institute of Technology, enabling him to gather together a team of highly talented
young theoretical physicists. Berkley was known as the center of American Quantum Physicists at the time, because of Oppenheimers work.
In 1939 he took quantum mechanics into astronomy, proposing that the largest stars could collapse into “black holes” from which not even light could escape.
In the early twenties new scientific theory about the atomic structures was being discovered. He worked on quantum theory and trained an entire generation of United States born physicists. His method of teaching was very difficult and most students failed his classes, but they still took them and eventually passed them. He became interested with politics during the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1936, and he was also concerned over the Great Depression in the U.S. He sided with Spain in their civil war and became friends with many communists as a result of this. His brother, Frank oddly enough was a communist. Oppenheimer organized anti-Fascist organizations and was a known communist, but didnt officially join the communist party. Do to Stalins influence and oppression in Russia, Oppenheimer withdrew his communist support. In 1939 Oppenheimer married Katherine Harrison. They had two children, one boy and one girl.
As World War Two began in Europe in September 1939, Albert Einstein (a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany as well as world-famous scientist) wrote to US President Roosevelt to warn of Nazi attempts to develop the atomic bomb. Roosevelt responded by ordering the Manhattan Project, development of the atomic bomb. From an initial budget of $6,000 the Project grew to cost $2,000,000,000 (in 1945 dollars – approximately $50 billion now). From a small US research effort in 1939, the Project in 1943 involved hundreds of scientists from the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and other Allied countries – along with many Jewish scientists who had fled persecution in Nazi-occupied Europe.
To head the key bomb assembly installation at Los Alamos was the leading US physicist, J Robert Oppenheimer. The installation was located at Los Alamos because Oppenheimer knew the remote location as a holiday spot to “get away from it all”. This is a government Laboratory that still exists today. The scientists succeeded. On 16 July, 1945 the Project team exploded the first test bomb at Alamogordo, 400 km south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The explosion was equal to 20,000 tons of TNT. Oppenheimer said, “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Oppenheimer was working on the separation of Uranium-235. People like Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, Enrico Fermi, Seth Neddermeyer, and John von Nuemann were just a few of the people that came to Los Alamos. Richard Feynman also worked for Oppenheimer there. Heading up the project for the military side was General Leslie R. Groves. Grooves choose Oppenheimer, because he was an effective organizer at Los Alamos due to his ability to quickly understand scientific ideas and his personal charisma was unmatchable. Oppenheimer welcomed the chance to support the war effort and to finally play a major role in the scientific world. And he found the project “technically sweet”. People marveled at how he seemed to understand any concept instantly. Almost everyone considered him to be their intellectual superior.
- Computer Science
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- Orders Of Magnitude
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- Reaction Rate
- Regulatory Focus Theory
- Roman Numerals
- Scientific Method
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- Silent Spring
- Westward Expansion
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