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- Albert Einstein

Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)

Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer was a social activist and a renowned physicist who is often called the "father of the atomic bomb".

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born on April 22 in New York City. His mother Ella Friedman was a painter and his father Julius Seligmann, was a successful textile importer; both were Germans. Robert had a younger brother, Frank who was a social activist and a physicist as well.

In 1925 Oppenheimer studied at Harvard University, and then in 1927 he obtained his doctorate in physics from the University of Gottingen in Germany. In the fall of 1928, he first visited the Netherlands, and then Switzerland Universities before returning back to the USA. Upon his return, he joined the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley where he became a full professor in 1936. There he researched quantum physics and made a significant role to this fundamental theory of nature, at and below the scale of atoms.

Oppenheimer became interested in politics and global affairs especially after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. This historic crash was a catalyst for the Great Depression with its consequences of unemployment, poverty and hunger that plagued the lives of millions of workers and ordinary people.

In 1934, during the West Coast Waterfront Strike, Oppenheimer and his students in Berkeley attended the longshoremen rally.

Oppenheimer's father died in 1937, leaving an inheritance of about $400 thousand which divided between the two brothers, Robert and Frank. Robert immediately wrote out a will that left his estate to the University of California to be used for graduate scholarships.

With the start of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Oppenheimer held fundraisers for the Republican cause against Franco's Fascists.

In 1939, he joined the American Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom, which was later branded a communist front. In 1941, FBI opened a file on Oppenheimer because of these activities. The FBI noted that Oppenheimer was on the Executive committee of the American Civil Liberties Union, which was again considered a communist front organisation. Shortly afterwards the FBI added him to its Custodial Detention Index, for arrest in case of national emergency.

On August 2nd, 1939, Albert Einstein, along with Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard co-authored a letter to President Roosevelt warning of the potential for Nazi Germany to develop an atomic bomb and urging the United States to pursue similar research. This letter played an important role in the start of the Manhattan Project.

In 1942, in spite of all these FBI Red Scaring, Oppenheimer proposed and recruited to work on the Manhattan Project. In 1943, he was appointed director of the project's Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, tasked with developing the first nuclear weapon.

Oppenheimer's great concern was that Nazi Germany was secretly trying to make the atomic bomb as soon as possible. After several failed attempts, on June 1942, Hitler appointed Marshal Hermann Goring as President of German Nuclear Weapons Project; recruiting nuclear physicists Kurt Diebner, Abraham Esau, Walther Gertach, and Erich Schumann.

Oppenheimer knew and himself had witnessed the harassments and the brutalities of these murderous Nazi thugs even though born in a non-observant Jewish family. If Nazis were armed with the atomic bomb, the World would become a very dangerous place to live. This was behind his willingness and enthusiasm to join the Manhattan Project. His leadership and scientific expertise were instrumental in the project's success. On July 16th 1945, he was present at the first test of the atomic bomb coded Trinity. Detonation of the bomb took place in the Chihuahuan desert north of Alamogordo, New Mexico. He thought that Nazis would think twice before using atomic bombs and that the Balance between atomic superpowers would prevent the occurrence of another world war.

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12th 1945. He was succeeded by the right-winger Vice President Harry Truman who decided to drop atomic bombs on Japan to end WWII. On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, and on August 9, 1945, Nagasaki, were bombed and ruined with thousands of casualties, the majority being civilians.

The reality is that on June 22, 1945, the Japanese Emperor Hiro Hito summoned the Big Six Cabinet and spoke to them that "I desire concrete plans to end the War... It was agreed to solicit the Soviets' aid in ending the War... The Japanese hoped that the Soviet Union could be persuaded to act as an agent for Japan in negotiations with the US and Briton. It should be argued that there was no need to the atomic bombing of Japan.

With this horrific act in Japan, and Fascists like Edgar Hoover as the FBI Director, Senator Joseph McCarthy as the head of Senate Government Operation Committee, Allen Dulles as the Director of CIA, and John Foster Dulles as senator and future Secretary of State, Oppenheimer was again severely concerned about the United States becoming a unipolar superpower armed with atomic weapons. A country which would not hesitate during the Cold War, to use nuclear weapons against any of its so-called enemies.

Oppenheimer felt remorseful due to the "opening of the gate of hell" and became increasingly concerned about the dangers that scientific inventions could pose to humanity. Both him and Albert Einstein opposed the development of hydrogen bombs, which got dismissed by right-wingers in the US Government and military factions.

In August 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, and the scare of the unipolar atomic superpower eased. The FBI was suspicious and accused Oppenheimer to have passed nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. These new allegations led to the revocation of his security clearance in 1954. This act ended his access to government atomic secrets and his career as a nuclear physicist. He was also stripped of his direct political influence. Oppenheimer however continued to write, lecture, and work in physics.

But later interviews and notes taken from the KGB archives showed that Oppenheimer was a martyr of McCarthyism (Wilson Center, Retrieved November 24, 2023).

Oppenheimer joined with Einstein, Bertrand Russel, Joseph Rotblat, and other renowned scientists and academics to alarm human society about the dangers of atomic bombs proliferation (Russel-Einstein Manifesto, 1955).

Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967, at the age of 62. He was survived by his wife and his Comrade Catherine. They had 2 children, Peter and Katherine.

On July 11, 2023, a film about the life and carrier of R. Oppenheimer was released in US and UK. The film directed, and produced (mainly) by Cristopher Nolan, is an epic biographical thriller partly realistic. The film is based on the 2005 book, American Prometheus, written by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Oppenheimer film is nominated for many awards for the 2024 Oscars.

Oppenheimer selected works:

  • Quantum Tunneling "On the Quantum Theory of Field Currents" (Physical Review, Volume 31 No5, p 914) 1928.

  • Note on Light Quanta and the Electromagnetic Field. The Physical Review: A journal of experimental and theoretical physics, Second Series, Volume 39, Number 4, 1931.

  • On the Scattering of the Th C1 Y-Rays. (Letter to the Editor). The Physical Review, Second Series, Volume 46, Number 1, 1934.

  • Notes on electrodynamics (University of California, Physics 207 B, 1939).

  • On Massive Neutron Cores. The Physical Review, Second Series, Volume 55 Number 4, (1939).

  • Physics in the Contemporary World (1947).

  • The open mind: (Address before the Rochester Institute of International Affairs (1948).

  • International Control of the Atomic Energy (1948).

  • Problems In the Interaction of elementary Particles (1950).

  • Hombre y ciencia: undesafio al mundo, R. Oppenheimer, Cornelio B. Van Niel, Enrico Fermi, Merk (1950).

  • Science and the Common Understanding (1953).

  • The Open Mind (1955).

  • A Nation's Security: The Case of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1955).

  • The constitution of matter (1956).

  • L' Esprit Liberal (1957).

  • Adventures of the Mind 7: The Mystery of Matter (1958).

  • Knowledge and the structure of culture (1958).

  • Reflections on science and culture (1961).

  • The Flying Trapeze: Three Crises for Physics (Whidden Lectures) 1962. McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

  • La Science et le Bon sens (1966).

  • In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer Transcript of hearing before personnel security board and texts of principal documents and letters (Published 1971)

  • Reflections on the resonances of Physics history (Published 1972).

  • Uncommon Sense (Published 1984).

  • Atom and Void: Essay on Science and Community (Prinston Legacy Library, 999), published 1989.

  • Relevance of Literature to Science (published 2006).

  • City of the End of Things: Lectures on Civilization and Empire (By R. J. Oppenheimer, Jonathan Locke Hart, Northrop Frye, Edward Togo Salman) Published 2009.

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