Robert Oppenheimer

Physicist Project

Place of Birth:

New York City, United States

Birth to Death

Date of Birth and Death: April 22, 1904

February 18, 1967


Two types of atomic bomb were developed during the war. A relatively simple gun-type fission weapon was made using uranium-235, an isotope that makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium. Since it is chemically identical to the most common isotope, uranium-238, and has almost the same mass, it proved difficult to separate. Three methods were employed for uranium enrichment: electromagnetic, gaseous and thermal. Most of this work was performed at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In parallel with the work on uranium was an effort to produce plutonium. Reactors were constructed at Oak Ridge and Hanford, Washington, in which uranium was irradiated and transmuted into plutonium. The plutonium was then chemically separated from the uranium. Compton asked the theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer of the University of California, Berkeley, to take over research into fast neutron calculations—the key to calculations of critical mass and weapon detonation—from Gregory Breit, who had quit on 18 May 1942 because of concerns over lax operational security.John H. Manley, a physicist at the Metallurgical Laboratory, was assigned to assist Oppenheimer by contacting and coordinating experimental physics groups scattered across the country. Oppenheimer and Robert Serber of the University of Illinois examined the problems of neutron diffusion—how neutrons moved in a nuclear chain reaction—and hydrodynamics—how the explosion produced by a chain reaction might behave. To review this work and the general theory of fission reactions, Oppenheimer convened meetings at the University of Chicago in June and at the University of California, Berkeley, in July 1942 with theoretical physicists Hans Bethe, John Van Vleck, Edward Teller, Emil Konopinski, Robert Serber, Stan Frankel, and Eldred C. Nelson, the latter three former students of Oppenheimer, and experimental physicists Felix Bloch, Emilio Segrè, John Manley, and Edwin McMillan. They tentatively confirmed that a fission bomb was theoretically possible

Major Contributions

Major Contribution(s) to Physics

He supervised the Manhattan project, and helped make the first atomic bomb.


Harvard University at the age of 17, In addition to majoring in chemistry, he was also required by Harvard's rules to study history, literature, and philosophy or mathematics

Cambridge University England

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Work Citied