What comes to your mind when you hear the name Oppenheimer? Most probably the atomic bomb. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was a highly-talented American theoretical physicist and renowned professor of physics at University of California, Berkeley. Oppenheimer often claimed the letter “J” stood for nothing, but his birth certificate shows that it stands for Julius (the first name of his father).
Frank, the brother of Oppenheimer, thought his parents didn’t want J. Robert to be known as a “junior.” He was born on April 22, 1904. Oppenheimer is among the persons who’re often referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb” for their significant roles in the Manhattan Project.
Oppenheimer was the youngest person to be admitted into the New York Mineralogical Society. He was an excellent theoretician and an extraordinary teacher. When the US Army detonated the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945, Oppenheimer later remarked that it brought to mind “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
Here are more interesting facts you probably didn’t know about Julius Robert Oppenheimer:
1. Being a member of the Ethical Culture Society, Robert Oppenheimer’s father took him to Ethical Cultural School in New York where he studied Latin, Greek, German and French and develop strong critical thinking and a keen interest in foreign languages. Oppenheimer discovered that he was gifted at these languages.
2. Atomic Energy Commission revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance in 1954 after he opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb. This move effectively barred Oppenheimer from further nuclear research.
3. In 1936, Carl David Anderson received a Nobel Prize for the discovery of positron. Interestingly, Oppenheimer had written a paper predicting its existence in 1930.
4. In his first year, Oppenheimer was admitted to graduate standing in physics based on an independent study that meant he wasn’t required to take the basic classes and could enroll in advanced ones instead. He majored in chemistry, but Harvard required all science students to study literature, history, and mathematics or philosophy as well. Therefore, he took six courses every term to compensate for his late start and was admitted to undergraduate honor society Phi Beta Kappa.
5. Oppenheimer liked to demonstrate extremely complex physical principles using elegant mathematical methods. However, some scholars sometimes criticized him for making mathematical mistakes, presumably out of haste. Scholars also considered his papers difficult to understand even by the standards of the abstract topics he was expert in.
6. Oppenheimer claimed that he didn’t listen to the radio or read newspapers, and had only learned of 1929 Wall Street crash some 6 months after it happened while on a walk with Ernest Lawrence. He remained aloof from the worldly matters during the 1920s. He once mentioned that he never voted until the 1936 election. However, he became increasingly concerned about international and political affairs from 1934 onwards.
7. In June 1943, army security agents followed Oppenheimer during his trip to California to visit his ex-girlfriend, Jean Tatlock, who was suffering from depression. Both the Manhattan Project’s internal security arm for his past left-wing associations and the FBI were investigating Oppenheimer throughout the development of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer spent the night in Tatlock’s apartment. Unfortunately, she committed suicide on January 4, 1944. The incident left Oppenheimer deeply grieved.
8. In the Acheson–Lilienthal Report, the committee looking into International Control of Atomic Energy recommended the establishment of an international Atomic Development Authority that would own all fissionable material and the means of its production, such as laboratories and mines, and atomic power plants where countries could use it for peaceful energy production. Oppenheimer strongly influenced the report as a member of the Board of Consultants to a committee that Truman appointed.
9. Oppenheimer’s most famous paper explained the separation of nuclear motion from electric motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules. Max Born co-authored the paper.