J. Robert Oppenheimer

(1904–1967)

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Anecdote 1...

Physicist was professor of Göttingen University when the twenty-three-year-old Oppenheimer was being examined for his doctorate. On emerging from the oral examination, Franck remarked, “I got out of there just in time. He was beginning to ask me questions.”

Anecdote 2...

As Oppenheimer watched the first atomic bomb explode in a test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, a passage from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, came into his mind: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One.” Then, as the enormous mushroom cloud darkened the sky, another sentence from the same source came to him: “I am become Death, the shatterer of Worlds.”

Biographical Note: 

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was a U.S. physicist, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1947 to 1966. He was in charge of the development of the atomic bomb (the Manhattan Project) at the end of World War II, and from 1945 to 1952 held a key position in U.S. atomic policy. His misgivings about the hydrogen bomb caused him to fall foul of a McCarthyite witch-hunt (1953), and he was labeled a security risk. Thereafter he devoted himself mainly to considering the ethics of science in society. In 1963, Oppenheimer received the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award, the highest prize awarded by the Atomic Energy Commission, conferred by President Johnson.