More interesting than Wikipedia – and with pictures.
Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer will have its world premiere on July 21st. It’s time to get to know the central character, Robert Oppenheimer, and find out what kind of contribution he made to world history.
Who is this?
Robert Oppenheimer was born in 1904 in New York. After graduating with honors, he studied at Harvard, Cambridge, the University of Göttingen and many major European research centers. Returning to the United States, Oppenheimer began teaching physics at the University of California at Berkeley and Caltech.
Even before the United States officially entered World War II, the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory was working on the development of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer participated in the project, doing calculations related to neutrons.
When the United States officially entered World War II, Oppenheimer was assigned to work on a top-secret government atomic bomb project, code-named the Manhattan Project.
What happened during World War II?
A laboratory was built in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in which the employees of the new project lived and worked. And although the government had misgivings about Oppenheimer because of his “leftist political sympathies, lack of administrative experience and lack of a Nobel Prize,” he quickly proved himself up to the task.
What is the Manhattan Project?
In 1939, Albert Einstein told US President Franklin Roosevelt that Nazi scientists had made progress in splitting the atom and harnessing its energy. And already in 1941, the United States officially created the “Manhattan Project” – a secret project to create an atomic bomb.
By 1942, Einstein’s physicist Enrico Fermi and his team at the University of Chicago had successfully created a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
What happened after the creation of the atomic bomb?
On July 16, 1945, Los Alamos scientists were ready to test a device they had made: a plutonium bomb codenamed Gadget. And although Germany had capitulated two months earlier and failed to create an atomic bomb, the US continued its research.
The remote Alamogordo test site, located 300 kilometers from Los Alamos, was chosen to test the Gadget bomb. The test was codenamed “Trinity”, “Trinity”; the name was chosen by Oppenheimer himself, it is believed that this is a reference to the poetry of John Donne.
Jokes about whether the bomb would work and test director Kenneth Bainbridge’s famous line “we’re all sons of bitches now” have gone down in the annals of history.
Oppenheimer himself, later reflecting on the Trinity test, quoted the Bhagavad Gita: “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.” The scientist also compared himself with Prometheus, punished by God for giving people fire.
Less than a month later, the uranium bomb “Kid” and the plutonium bomb “Fat Man” were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly thereafter, Japan capitulated, officially ending World War II.
Oppenheimer felt deeply about his role in the birth of the atomic age and later said: “Physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge they cannot lose.”
Oppenheimer’s life after the war
The end of World War II did not mean the end of the US nuclear program. As a replacement for the Manhattan Project, the United States created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). It was Oppenheimer who was appointed chairman of the Commission’s General Advisory Committee.
The scientist was categorically against the creation of a hydrogen bomb, which, in his opinion, would be even more destructive than uranium and plutonium.
Oppenheimer at his hearing
When fear of the Soviet Union seized the US, Oppenheimer was suspected of espionage and links with the Communists. An investigation was launched against the scientist: the authorities believed that during the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer communicated with unreliable or Communist Party scientists.
Oppenheimer was asked to resign. Refusing to voluntarily leave his post, the scientist participated in legal proceedings for several years and was eventually suspended from work in 1954.
In 1967, Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer.