Robert Oppenheimer
Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist and government adviser, who
directed the development of the first atomic bombs. To scientists, he was not
only the builder of the atomic bomb and a pioneer in atomic energy, but a master
of many languages, a good conversationalist and a brilliant mathematician. He
was also a writer, and an expert in both the history of architecture and the
religions of the world. Oppenheimer, who was born in New York City on April 22,

1904, and educated at Harvard University and the Universities of Cambridge and

Gottingen, grew up in a middle class neighborhood. He was raised by his mother,
who was an artist who provided a nice apartment with a subdued, tasteful
atmosphere. His grandfather came from Germany where he was a peasant farmer and
grain merchant. The Oppenheimer’s family business was importing fabric for the
clothing industry. As a child in grade school, Oppenheimer excelled in all
subjects. This continued straight through all of his schooling. During his years
at Harvard University, Oppenheimer excelled in Latin, Greek, physics and
chemistry. He also published poetry and studied Oriental philosophy. After
graduating in 1925, he sailed to England to do research in the Cavendish

Laboratory at Cambridge University , which, under the leadership of Lord

Rutherford, had an international reputation for its pioneering studies on atomic
structure. Oppenheimer was fortunate to enter physics in 1925 because that is
when modern quantum mechanics came into being. He was one of the first
scientists to use quantum mechanics for the exploration of problems which had
been insoluble with the old quantum theory. While at Cambridge, Oppenheimer had
the opportunity to work with the British scientific community in its efforts to
advance the cause of atomic research. Shortly thereafter, Max Born invited him
to Gottingen University, where he met other prominent physicists, such as Niels

Bohr and Paul Dirac, and where, in 1927, he received his doctorate. He then
returned to the United States. After serving with the International Education

Board from 1928 to 1929, Oppenheimer became a professor of physics at the

University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology
where he worked from1929 to 1947. There he built up large schools of theoretical
physics. He was noted for his contributions relating to the quantum theory, the
theory of relativity, cosmic rays, positrons, and neutron stars. He was also
able to show that a baffling movement of a deuteron (heavy hydrogen nucleus),
being loosely bound, surrenders its neutron on entering the field of a heavy
nucleus. The effect was that the heavy nucleus captures the stripped neutron,
becomes unstable and then radioactive. This discovery helped to later develop
the hydrogen bomb, which is thousands of times more powerful than the atomic
bomb. In his early years of teaching, Oppenheimer had little success and many
students complained to the head of the physics department about how quiet he was
and how he overestimated his audience. The department head, Raymond T. Birge,
knew that Oppenheimer already knew that he was not getting through to the
students and therefore did not need to be told. Soon enough he began to interact
with his audience by dropping his pace of delivery and going to great lengths to
make connections between ideas clearer. By doing this he attracted a small group
of some of the brightest students. These students thought of him as a brilliant
lecturer and some remarked that he was one of their most inspiring professors.

In 1940 Oppenheimer married a woman named Katherine Harrison. They had one son
whom they named Peter and a daughter whom they named Katherine. They lived in a
beautiful house on Eagle Hill in the San Francisco Bay area. During a leave of
absence that lasted from 1943 until 1945, Oppenheimer served as director of the
atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico. After warnings from Albert

Einstein and Leo Szilard, both respected scientists, that the world would be in
grave danger if the Nazis were the first to create an atomic bomb, Oppenheimer
began to seek a process for the separation of uranium-235 from natural uranium.

He also strove to discover a way to determine the critical mass of uranium
required to make such a bomb. On July 16, 1945, the joint effort of outstanding
scientists at Los Alamos created the first nuclear explosion. This took place at

Alamogordo, New Mexico. That October, Oppenheimer resigned from the project. His
leadership and organizational skills during the project earned him the

Presidential Medal of Merit in 1946. In 1947 Oppenheimer became director of the

Institute for Advanced