J. Robert Oppenheimer, later known as the father of the atomic bomb, was born in
New York City on April 22, 1904. He went to school at the Ethical Cultural School in
New York. After which, he went to Harvard for three years. Oppenheimer graduated
summa cum laude in 1925. Then J. Robert toured Europe for four years where he
established himself as a theoretical physicist.
In 1926 in Cambridge, England, he wrote his first two papers. The papers were on
the hydrogen atom and the quantum mechanics of molecular band spectra. They showed
how certain molecular and atomic features could be derived. Oppenheimer then went to
the University of Gottingen in Germany where he studied under Max Born. They created
the Born-Oppenheimer method for handling vibrational, rotational, and electronical
degrees of freedom of molecules, now one of the classical parts of quantum theory. In
1927 he got his doctor's degree from Gottingen. He stayed in Europe until 1929.
During the years of 1929 through 1942 he taught and researched at the University
of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasedena. He
investigated holes, nuclear forces, electron-photon showers in cosmic rays, and neutron
stars. At both he built large schools of theoretical physics from his following of
postdoctoral researchers and graduate students.
World War II changed Oppenheimer's focus to the atomic bomb. He was director
of the army's "Manhattan Project" from 1943 to 1945. It was placed at Los Alamos,
under his suggestion, where the first atomic bomb was designed and built. From 1946 to
1952 he headed the advisory committee of the newly formed United States Atomic Energy
Commission (AEC). He also aided in writing the first United States proposal for
international control of nuclear energy (the "Acheson-Lilienthal Report).
Oppenheimer was the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton
from 1947 to 1966. He helped expand the population by bringing in a great deal of young
scientists. In addition, J. Robert worked to help people better understand each other,
"What we do not know we try to explain to each other."
In 1953, at the height of the McCarthy era, Oppenheimer's loyalty to the United
States was questioned. He was investigated for his opposition to the hydrogen bomb, his
sharp tongue, his controversial views on military strategy, and his past relations with
known communists. Oppenheimer was cleared of all charges of disloyalty, but his security
clearance was denied. He continued as director of the Institute, and was given the
A.E.C.'s Enrico Fermi Award in 1963.
J. Robert Oppenheimer was one of the most prominent American scientists of his
time. He died on February 18, 1967.