Biography of Robert Oppenheimer

Biography of Robert Oppenheimer

Robert Oppenheimer is known as the “father of the atomic bomb”. He was also one of the leaders of the Manhattan project.

Childhood and early years

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in the family of Julius Oppenheimer, a wealthy importer of fabrics, and the artist Ella Friedman. His parents were Jews who immigrated in 1888 from Germany to America.

Primary education a boy receives in the Preparatory school. Alquin, and in 1911 he entered the School of the Society of Ethical Culture. Here, in a short time, he receives secondary education, showing special interest in mineralogy.
In 1922, Robert went to Harvard College for a course in chemistry, but later will also study literature, history, mathematics and theoretical and experimental physics. From the university it is issued in 1925.

Entering the College of Christ at the University of Cambridge, he works at the Cavendish Laboratory, where he soon receives an offer to work for the famous British physicist JJ Thomson – provided that Oppenheimer will complete the basic laboratory course.

Since 1926, Robert is studying at the University of Göttingen, where his supervisor is Max Born. In those days, this university was one of the leading higher educational institutions in the field of theoretical physics, and it is here that Oppenheimer meets a number of outstanding people whose names will soon become known to the world: Enrico Fermi and Wolfgang Pauli.


his studies at the university, Robert publishes not less than a dozen scientific notes on physics, and also writes a fundamental paper on quantum mechanics.

His thesis entitled “The Born-Oppenheimer Approximation” makes a significant contribution to the study of the nature of molecules. Finally, in 1927, he graduated from the university, having obtained a doctorate in philosophy.

Scientific activity

In 1927, the US National Research Council Oppenheimer awarded the membership in the research groups of Harvard University, as well as the California Institute of Technology. In 1928, he lectured at the University of Leiden, after which he went to Zurich, where, together with his institute friend, Wolfgang Pauli, he worked on questions of quantum mechanics and the continuous spectrum.

In 1929, Oppenheimer accepted the offer to become an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, where he would work for the next twenty years.

Since 1934, continuing his work in the field of physics, he also takes an active part in the political life of the country. Oppenheimer lists some of his wages to help German physicists who are trying to escape from Nazi Germany, and shows support for social reforms that will later be called “Communist attempts.”

In 1935, as a result of working together with physicist Melba Phillips, Oppenheimer presents the scientific world with the Oppenheimer-Phillips process, which has application to this day.

In 1936, Oppenheimer received the post of full-time professor at the National Laboratory. Lawrence in Berkeley. However, the continuation of his full teaching at the California University of Technology becomes impossible. Ultimately, the parties come to an agreement that his position at the University Oppenheimer will be released in six weeks, which corresponds to one semester.
In 1939, he presented to the public a paper entitled “On Unlimited Gravitational Compression,” in which the existence of black holes was predicted. However, there were no clear explanations in the article.

In 1942, Oppenheimer took part in the Manhattan project, together with a research team, engaged in the development of atomic bombs during the Second World War.

In 1947, Oppenheimer was unanimously elected head of the General Advisory Committee of the US Atomic Energy Commission. In this position, he actively solicits strict adherence to international rules for the use of weapons and support of fundamental scientific projects.

At the same time, Oppenheimer heads the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. In the same 1947 he, together with a number of physicists, is working on quantum electrodynamics of elementary particles, and he also develops the concept of renormalizations. Even before the outbreak of World War II, the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover personally, set up Oppenheimer for surveillance, suspecting him of close ties with the Communist group. In 1949, before the Commission on the investigation of anti-American activities, the scientist admits that in the 1930s he really took an active part in the Communist Party. As a consequence, in the next four years it will be declared unreliable.

At the end of his life, Oppenheimer collaborates with Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and Joseph Rotblat, working together to unveil the World Academy of Arts and Science in 1960.

Basic work

In the University of Göttingen, Oppenheimer wrote the thesis “The Born-Oppenheimer Approximation” – a work that made a significant contribution to the study of quantum chemistry, which describes in detail the wave functions of molecules. This dissertation is considered one of the most important of his works of the early period.

An article on the Oppenheimer-Phillips process opened a new dimension in nuclear fusion. This work to this day has weight in the world of science.

A lot of Oppenheimer did for the development of nuclear physics, spectroscopy, astrophysics and quantum field theory. He was the first physicist to point out the possibility of the existence of black holes.

Oppenheimer made a significant contribution to the study of cosmic ray showers, which ultimately led to a description of the quantum tunneling effect.

Awards and achievements

At the age of 12, Oppenheimer became an honorary member of the New York Mineralogical Club for presenting his work on minerology.

In 1946, headed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oppenheimer was awarded the Presidential Medal “For Merit”.

In 1963, as a sign of political rehabilitation, he receives the Enrico Fermi Award.

Personal life and heritage

In 1936, at Berkeley, Oppenheimer had an affair with a student at Stanford University, the daughter of a professor of literature at the University of Berkeley, Jeanne Thetlock.

Here he meets the biologist Catherine Poinning Harrison, who by the time of their acquaintance had managed to be married three times. November 1, 1940 Robert and Catherine play a wedding. The family had two children, Peter and Catherine.

Oppenheimer was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, and despite a successful course of chemotherapy, the scientist falls into a coma, from which he could not be withdrawn.

In his honor the same lunar crater and an asteroid №67085 are named.

Interesting Facts

The theoretical physicist François Ferguson, a friend of Oppenheimer, recalled how, one day, he left on the table of his scientific leader Patrick Blackett an apple, drenched with harmful chemicals.

The most famous theoretical physicist, Oppenheimer, had serious problems with the psyche, was an avid smoker, and often, during his work, forgot to eat.

Biography of Robert Oppenheimer