In the scientific world, Robert Oppenheimer played an important role in developing a powerful line of defense. As one of the most well known of scientists in his generation, he would lead a team that was responsible for creating the first atomic bomb in the world. In this article, you will learn more about his life and achievements.
The Early Years
Born in New York City, J. Robert Oppenheimer was the son of a wealthy German textile merchant. He studied at the illustrious institutions of Harvard and Cambridge, before earning a PhD at the University of Gottingen in Germany in 1927. Oppenheimer then took a position as professor at the University of California, where he spent the next 13 years of his life. It was there that he made influential strides in the fields of nuclear physics, general relativity, astronomy, and quantum physics. When it came to theoretical physics, he truly shined, which helped the United States become an international leader in the field.
Enter the Manhattan Project
When World War II started, Oppenheimer became involved in nuclear weapon research that was brewing at Berkeley, California. He spent his time researching chain reactions , which would come into play years later. The Army’s interest in the bomb-making effort increased and decided to take control. The Manhattan Project was born with General Leslie Grove serving as director. He chose Oppenheimer as the scientific director. This came at a surprise because the scientist engaged in political activities that had been deemed a potential risk to security.
Oppenheimer chose Los Alamos (located in the desert of New Mexico) as the site for the research center that would see the first nuclear test explosion. This event took place on July 16, 1945 and would mark the coming of the Atomic Age. The first explosion resembled a giant fireball that mushroomed into the sky. Within a month, the bomb would find a use. President Harry S Truman ordered that the “Little Boy and Fat Man” nuclear bombs should be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs would be responsible for killing more than 200,000 people.
The Downside of Nuclear Physics
While nuclear physics gave the Americans an edge in wars and military efforts, it also came with implications. Around the world, people started to take notice to what bombs meant for military and political ambitions. In the meantime, Oppenheimer became a symbolic personality representing this new science. The US Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1946 and Oppenheimer was named the head of the General Advisory Committee. The United States also had to prepare for the nuclear arms race that would sweep the globe. With this in mind, Oppenheimer lobbied against developing the hydrogen bomb. He would later change his views, but his initial reluctance would be viewed as showing Communist sympathy.
Formal hearings were held and even though many of his colleagues spoke in his favor, Oppenheimer lost his security clearance and was forced out of anything that dealt with politics.