Oppenheimer, born on April 22, 1904, to German immigrants, became a major figure in his field. Oppenheimer plays both roles in his narrative. Oppenheimer is a symbol of scientific genius, having left an indelible impact on the world and altering human understanding of the cosmos via his unquenchable quest for knowledge, a profound sense of social duty, and unflinching devotion to scientific discovery.
He was born to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, Julius and Ella Oppenheimer, who were both secular. The Oppenheimer family was well-off; the father imported textiles, and the mother was an accomplished artist. Some tidbits about the life of the American theoretical physicist are provided here.
At 12, J. Robert Oppenheimer was asked to speak at a geology lecture
According to American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. By the time he was 12, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin wrote, he was exchanging letters with several prominent geologists about the Central Park rock formations he had researched. One of these pen pals recommended Robert for membership in the New York Mineralogical Club without knowing his age. Bird, Kai, and Sherwin, Martin J.
Nominated Thrice for the Nobel Prize
He was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize three times (1945, 1951, and 1967) but was never awarded the prize. Oppenheimer worked closely with Ernest O. Lawrence, a Nobel Laureate in Physics-awarded experimental scientist. Not only did he win the Nobel Prize, but so did 18 of his coworkers from the Los Alamos-based Manhattan Project.
He may have tried to poison his professor with an apple
Oppenheimer’s anxiety was over the roof due to his repeated lab failures and inability to get Blackett’s approval. Oppenheimer’s envy may have driven him to drastic measures. Francis Fergusson, a close friend of Oppenheimer’s, said that the physicist once admitted to poisoning an apple and leaving it temptingly on Blackett’s desk. It has been said that Oppenheimer was going to be expelled from school and may be charged with a crime if his father had not intervened and arranged for him to be placed on academic probation instead.
The CIA had Oppenheimer Under Surveillance further he got his security revoked which was not reversed over 50 years after his death
Oppenheimer was known to have had communist leanings. He gave generously to communist organizations and had strong relationships with well-known communists. The FBI put Oppenheimer on its Custodial Detention List in case of a national emergency because of the communist views he has expressed in the past. Oppenheimer learned he was considered a threat to national security in a letter from the Atomic Energy Commission’s head dated December 21, 1953. Oppenheimer faced pressure to resign from the GAC but advocated for a hearing, which he was granted.
The panel that evaluated his fate acknowledged that Oppenheimer had been a “loyal citizen,” yet they nonetheless chose to remove his security clearance. The Atomic Energy Commission agreed with this conclusion. The tide had turned in favor of J. Robert Oppenheimer before he passed away on February 18, 1967, in Princeton, New Jersey. The decision made in 1954 that revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance was officially overturned on December 16, 2022, by the United States Department of Energy.
Hollywood Owes Much to Oppenheimer and His Work
Hollywood’s fascination with the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer’s lifestyle has inspired many films. Oppenheimer starred in films like Fat Man and Little Boy (1989) and The Beginning of the End (1947). Regarding critical acclaim, the BBC TV series Oppenheimer (1980) was more successful. It won three BAFTAs and was nominated for an Emmy.
Jean Tatlock and Oppenheimer
Doctor, psychiatrist, and well-known communist sympathizer Jean Tatlock lived in the United States. In the middle of the 1930s, Tatlock met Oppenheimer, who was a professor at Berkeley. Oppenheimer made two marriage proposals to Tatlock as their connection progressed from platonic to romantic. This link would later be crucial for Oppenheimer when he was being considered to head the Manhattan Project, the covert effort to create an atomic weapon. The FBI started looking into Oppenheimer because of his ties to communist groups and Tatlock’s involvement in one of those groups.
The state of New Mexico holds a special place in his heart
The secret laboratory for the Manhattan Project was located at the Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, which was selected by Oppenheimer in 1942. During his recuperation from dysentery in 1922, he experienced a spark of love for the first time. The future physicist rode his horse across the beautiful Sangre de Christo and Jemez Mountain Ranges during that period. In the summer of 1928, he and his younger brother Frank went on horse-packing treks across New Mexico, and in 1947, Oppenheimer bought a primitive home on 154 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that he had rented.
President Truman called him a crybaby and Einstein called him a fool
Oppenheimer met with President Harry S. Truman in the Oval Office just two months after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to address his fears of a future nuclear war with the USSR. Oppenheimer was concerned that the Soviet Union might create an atomic weapon, but Truman dismissed his concerns. In 1946, Truman wrote that Oppenheimer was a “cry-baby scientist” who had come to “my office some five or six months ago and spent most of his time wringing his hands and telling me they had blood on them because of the discovery of atomic energy.”
While chatting with Albert Einstein at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, he mentioned the ongoing efforts to revoke his security clearance. Einstein suggested to his coworker that he simply leave the situation and walk away. Oppenheimer, however, responded that he saw more opportunity for positive change within the establishment than outside of it, and hence he intended to remain and continue the struggle. Regarding Oppenheimer, Einstein told his secretary in Yiddish, “There goes a narr [Yiddish for ‘fool’].”
He was a fluent speaker of six languages and had a deep interest in the humanities.
Oppenheimer was always ready for a mental challenge and delighted in showing off his extraordinary capacity for learning. He was fluent in six other tongues, including Greek, Latin, French, German, Dutch (which he picked up in just six weeks to lecture in the Netherlands), and Sanskrit, an old Indian language. His most well-known Bhagavad Gita-related comment comes from an interview with NBC in 1965, in which he described his reaction to the mushroom cloud left by the first successful atomic bomb test.
The majority of his students adored him
He left an indelible mark on the lives of many scientists as a professor and mentor. Many of his students went on to become well-known scientists. Some of these students became so taken by Oppenheimer that they began to dress and act like him, complete with his trademark gray suit, ungainly black shoes, Chesterfield cigarette chains, and offbeat demeanor. The star-struck kids, known as “nim nim boys” for their painstaking imitations of Oppenheimer’s peculiar “nim nim” humming, were given the epithet “nim nim” for their efforts.
Oppenheimer aided loved ones in their escape from Nazi Germany
Oppenheimer was born in Germany to Jewish (non-observant) parents. In 1937, when Hitler came to power in Germany, he used his own money to pay for his Aunt Hedwig and her son Alfred to move along with Alfred’s family to the United States.