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Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist known as the father of the atomic bomb. He led a team of scientists for the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II. The Manhattan Project resulted in the creation and first use of nuclear weapons.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York, NY on April 22, 1904. Oppenheimer progressed through high school very quickly and was admitted to Harvard College. After completing his degree Oppenheimer moved to Cambridge, UK to complete post graduate lab work at the Cavendish Laboratory under J.J. Thomson. He completed his PhD from the University of Göttingen in 1927. Oppenheimer produced work in a wide range of different physics areas including particle physics, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics. It was often said that he didn’t have a lot of patience to work in just one area of physics for a long time.

In 1939 Albert Einstein and Leó Szilárd wrote a letter to President Roosevelt warning of the possibility that Germany could develop its own nuclear weapons. This pushed Roosevelt to start an American program to develop nuclear weapons. This project was codenamed the "Manhattan Project". In 1942, Oppenheimer was made head of the Manhattan Project’s secret weapons laboratory. The research and development part of the project was based in Los Alamos and had the mission of creating the world’s first atomic bomb. Oppenheimer recruited some of the world’s best scientists to work there, including Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi. The work of the scientists and engineers at Los Alamos led to the first artificial nuclear explosion which was codenamed Trinity. The project ended with two bombs being dropped on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are the only nuclear weapons ever used during wartime. For his role as director of the Los Alamos team, President Truman awarded Oppenheimer the Medal of Merit in 1946.

After the Second World War, Oppenheimer worked as the chairperson of the General Advisory Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission. There he spoke out against using nuclear weapons and was a proponent of international nuclear arms control. Oppenheimer had his security clearance revoked after being accused of having communist-sympathies. After his security clearance was revoked he was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. He continued to give lectures all over the world.

Oppenheimer was a lifelong heavy smoker and died from throat cancer, aged 62 on February 18, 1967.

Oppenheimer’s Significant Accomplishments

  • Leading the Manhattan Project which created the world’s first nuclear weapon
  • Medal of Merit in 1946
  • Enrico Fermi Award in 1963

Robert Oppenheimer Quotes

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

“The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.”

“No man should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows.”

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