J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist who served as the scientific director of the Manhattan Project during World War II. Often called the “father of the atomic bomb,” Oppenheimer oversaw the creation of the first nuclear weapons in history.
Born in New York City in 1904, Oppenheimer was a precocious student who excelled in science from a young age. He obtained his PhD in physics from the University of Göttingen in Germany in 1927. When he returned to the United States, Oppenheimer became a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology. He quickly established himself as one of the country’s leading physicists, making important contributions to the then-new field of quantum mechanics.
In 1942, Oppenheimer was appointed the head of the secret Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, part of the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. Under Oppenheimer’s leadership, scientists from across disciplines worked tirelessly to design and build the first nuclear weapons. This was an enormous feat of science and engineering, requiring the efforts of thousands of people. Oppenheimer himself provided important theoretical work on bomb design and detonation. He motivated and rallied his scientists, managing the immense pressures of the project.
In July 1945, Oppenheimer oversaw the Trinity test in the New Mexico desert – the first-ever detonation of a nuclear device. When the test succeeded, Oppenheimer famously recalled a line from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” This acknowledged the terrifying power that had been unleashed. Weeks later, nuclear weapons were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hastening the end of World War II.
After the war, Oppenheimer served as chair of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. He advocated for the international control of atomic energy and opposed development of the hydrogen bomb. In 1954, he was subjected to a sensational security hearing that resulted in the revocation of his security clearance. The hearing was view