Robert Oppenheimer

oppenheimer250Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born on April 22, 1904. He was born in New York City, to a wealthy Jewish immigrant. As a boy, Robert went to the finest elementary schools in the city and was exposed to original artwork in his very household. His mother, a painter , had an impressive art collection including  works by Van Gogh and  Picasso.  Robert was also interested in the French language and mineralogy. He was so smart that he learned third and fourth grade in one year and he skipped half of eighth grade. Only then was he interested in chemistry.

Oppenheimer attended Harvard college, where he ventured to New Mexico in his free time and studied chemistry day and night.  A thorough study of thermodynamics earned him summa cum laude at graduation in just three years.  Oppenheimer opened a lab in the Netherlands, where he studied and wrote famous papers about the difference between nuclear motion from electronic motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules, allowing nuclear motion to be neglected to simplify calculations.  It remains his most cited work.

Oppenheimer was awarded many scientific medals and was offered a teaching position at Harvard at the age of 23.  He moved around from teaching position to teaching position, going to the Netherlands, Massachusetts, and California. He worked closely with Nobel Prize winners Ernest O. Lawrence and the famous Albert Einstein.  He studied theoretical astronomy, nuclear physics, spectroscopy , quantum field theory and electrodynamics and the formal mathematics of relativistic quantum mechanics.  He made extraordinary contributions to the scientific field .

In 1941 he was recruited for the Manhattan Project.  FDR gave permission for a experimental weapon that would end the war faster and keep national defense intact. This was the atom bomb.  Initially, a small group of scientists including Oppenheimer were supposed to apply for the army, obscuring their identity and keeping the project secret.  This fell through when Oppenheimer was declared underweight (128 pounds) and contracted chronic tuberculosis multiple times in his life.  The projects popularity grew throughout the states and many scientists joined in.

Finally after four years of testing, the bomb was triggered in New Mexico, showing results greater than they had imagined. On august sixth and ninth 1945 two bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The war was over.

The rest of his life was short and disappointing. He was caught in a mix with J.Edgar Hoover and the FBI, who followed him for years for being a communist.  Oppenheimer taught some more and near the end of his life accepted honorary awards from Harvard.  He died on February 18,1967 at the age of sixty-two from a lung infection. The saddest part is, after all the advancements he made in science and education, and after his three nominations, he never won the Nobel Prize.

“ We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. ”

-Robert Oppenheimer

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