J. Robert Oppenheimer

Researched by Johnny Chang

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Oppie's Identity in a Nutshell

- Born April 22, 1904

- German Jewish heritage (will bite him in the rump later)

- Grew up in a wealthy family

- His grandfather sparked his interest for science at the age of 5 (rock collection)

- His greatest influence came from his foundational education at the Ethical Culture Society School

- There humanism was planted in his mind which would affect important decisions later in his life

- Attended Harvard in 1922, initially studying chemistry

- Changed his course and graduated summa cum laude (with highest distinction in Physics) 3 years later

- So engrossed in his studies that he was unable to socialize with others

- Age 22, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen, Germany

- Began the rise of his prominence in theoretical physics while teaching and studying at the University of California Berkley and California Tech.

- Jean Tatlock, a romantic partner, contributes to the development of his support for communism

Oppenheimer's Quote

"Now, I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
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Oppenheimer's Contribution

The Manhattan Project was initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 when two scientists, Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi, warned the president that the Nazi's discovered how to split uranium atoms. The objective of this program was to develop the United States' defense against possible nuclear threats by building their own. When Oppenheimer was appointed as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project in 1942, he took on the responsibility to manage more than 3000 people. At times he and his team were faced with theoretical and mechanical problems. However with his strong leadership and incomparable intellect, Oppenheimer and his team were ready to test the first Atomic Bomb, the Gadget, on July 16, 1945. Oppenheimer rationalization or justification for taking on the Manhattan Project was that the world would finally see peace with this new weaponry (humanism). However, when the government planned to build a more destructive weapon, the Hydrogen Bomb, Oppenheimer immediately regretted his partaking in the program and voiced his opposition against the H Bomb. The temporary impact of the Atomic Bomb was the end of WWII, but the long term impact constituted a dangerous future for the world or what would be left of it.
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Historiography: Oppenheimer Security Hearing

Before his time as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer began a romantic relationship with a 22 year old communist sympathizer named Jean Tatlock. As he spent more time with her, Oppenheimer became associated with many members of the American Communist Party. Soon enough, Oppenheimer became a communist sympathizer as well, agreeing with most of the ideals because of his humanistic perceptive. After he was named the director of the project, Oppenheimer was approached by an old friend, Haakon Chevalier, who also turned out to be a communist support. Chevalier offered Oppenheimer a chance to betray the United States and relay information to the USSR. Oppenheimer refused the offer but did not report it immediately after. After WWII, the Red Scare swept across the nation, and Communists were being hunted like witches. The Atomic Energy Commission suspected Oppenheimer of disloyalty when he spoke out against the making of the Hydrogen Bomb. His history, especially concerning the Chevalier Affair, with communist party members justified their suspicions. To make matters worse, his cultural heritage hinted that he had allegiances to countries other than the US. In 1953, his security clearance was withdrawn. Many fellow scientists voiced their support for Robert, but his reputation remained tainted even after he had passed away in 1967. The overall tone of the passage solemn. The author highlights the injustice that had been imposed upon J. Robert Oppenheimer and at the end includes Oppenheimer's daughters reason for suicide, which makes the situation even more grim.

Relevance in Another Time Period

If J. Robert Oppenheimer had lived after the Atomic Age, he would have been the most decorated scientist. Oppenheimer was considered the leading theoretical physicist at the time; many of his studies during the rush for the Atomic Bomb lead to many new discoveries such as neutrons, positrons, and mesons, so he definitely had the intellectual capacity to further the scientific field. Unfortunately, being the leader of the Manhattan Project redirected his priorities more towards the Gadget's progress.

If I Were Oppie...

If I were J. Robert Oppenheimer, I would have continued personal research and made more meaningful contributions to theoretical physics that could open up a door to inhabiting another planet. Also, because of my own interest in aerospace engineering, I would have studied ways to make airplanes reduce physical effects on humans, particularly at higher speeds (pilot friendly).


J. Robert Oppenheimer was very valuable to the scientific community, however, his abilities were misused because of the time period in which he lived. On top of that, the Atomic Energy Commission wrongfully discredited him, much like how John Proctor from the Crucible and Prometheus the Titan were punished for their attempt to speak or act out against wrong doings. Unlike Proctor and Prometheus, Oppenheimer does not find peace with himself and is not freed from his suffering. Instead, he is given a small token, the Enrico Fermi Award, by President Lyndon B. Johnson to "compensate" for the injustice that he had to endure. To this day, Oppenheimer's security check controversy remains more recognized than his actual achievements.
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Political Cartoon

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The political cartoon is based on J. Robert Oppenheimer's appearance on the cover of LIFE magazine. In the cartoon, Oppenheimer's face is replace with a humorous Albert Einstein. Einstein's discoveries from the early 1900s were crucial for development of the atomic bomb, however, he did not directly contribute to the Manhattan Project. Even so, Einstein remains one of if not the most well known scientist, unlike Oppenheimer: father of the Atomic Bomb.
American Prometheus

Works Cited (Better Version in Classroom)

Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of

J. Robert Oppenheimer. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.

"J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904 - 1967)." J. Robert Oppenheimer. National Science

Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

"J. Robert Oppenheimer." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

"Oppenheimer Security Hearing." Atomic Heritage Foundation. Atomic Heritage Foundation,

n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

Links to Sources of Visuals