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Oppenheimer, J. Robert

OPPENHEIMER, J. ROBERT

OPPENHEIMER, J. ROBERT (1904–1967), U.S. physicist. Oppenheimer was in charge of the construction of the first atomic bomb as director of the laboratories at Los Alamos, New Mexico. Born in New York City, Oppenheimer was the son of a cultured and successful businessman, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Germany. His mother, a painter and teacher, died when he was nine years old. He was a child prodigy and at the age of five was collecting geological specimens. At Harvard University, he studied physics and chemistry, Greek and Latin. He worked under the world-famous scientist Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge, England (1925–26), and went to Goettingen at the invitation of Max *Born in 1927. On his return to America he became professor simultaneously at the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena and at the University of California at Berkeley (1929–47). He was a brilliant teacher, intense and dedicated–reading no newspaper, owning no radio, and learning Sanskrit as a diversion. He became director at Los Alamos in 1943 and during World War ii was hailed as a world figure for the creation of "the bomb." In October 1945 he resigned as director at Los Alamos, and in 1947 became director of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton (1947–66). As chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission he continued to influence policy. He was greatly concerned with international control of atomic weapons. He was involved in the great debate with scientist Edward *Teller and the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Lewis *Strauss on the construction of the thermonuclear bomb. In 1954, his security clearance was cancelled because of his early association with communists in the late 1930s and his opposition to the H-Bomb (the subject of a play In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer based on the documents by H. Kipphardt, and translated by R. Speirs, 1954). After a hearing before a special board he was declared "a loyal citizen but not a good security risk." In 1963, as a sign of restored confidence, he was given the Fermi Award for his contribution to nuclear research by the Atomic Energy Commission.

bibliography:

J. Alsop and S. Alsop, We Accuse (1954); J. Boskin, The Oppenheimer Affair (1968); H.M. Chevalier, Oppenheimer: The Story of a Friendship (1966); C.P. Curtis, The Oppenheimer Case (1955); M. Rouzé, Robert Oppenheimer; the Man and His Theories (1964); J.L.C. Vilar, Le dossier Oppenheimer (1965); N.P. Davis, Lawrence and Oppenheimer (1968); R. Serber et al., Oppenheimer (Eng., 1969); I.L. Rabi et al., Oppenheimer (Eng., 1969); P. Michelmore, The Swift Years, Robert Oppenheimer's Story (1969); J.R. Soyer, The Oppenheimer Case: Security on Trial (1969).

[J. Edwin Holmstrom]

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