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J. Robert Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer, J. Robert (ŏpˈənhĪˌmər) [key], 1904–67, American physicist, b. New York City, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1925), Ph.D. Univ. of Göttingen, 1927. He taught at the Univ. of California and the California Institute of Technology from 1929 (as professor from 1936) until his appointment in 1947 as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J. His early work was concerned with the quantum theory and nuclear physics. With Max Born he contributed to the quantum theory of molecules, and later (1930) he published an important paper on the nature of antiparticles, which had been predicted but not yet detected.

As director of the atomic-energy research project at Los Alamos, N.Mex., from 1942 to 1945, Oppenheimer made important contributions to the development of atomic energy for military purposes. After the atomic bomb was used against Japan, Oppenheimer became one of the foremost proponents of civilian and international control of atomic energy; he was chairman of the general advisory committee of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1946 to 1952 and consultant to the American delegate to the UN Atomic Energy Committee. He strongly opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb in 1949 on both technical and moral grounds. In 1953, Oppenheimer was suspended by the Atomic Energy Commission as an alleged security risk, in part due to criticism from fellow scientist Edward Teller, who was instrumental in the development of the hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer's case stirred wide controversy. In Oct., 1954, he was unanimously reelected director of the Institute for Advanced Study. In addition to his contributions as a theoretical physicist and an administrator, Oppenheimer achieved a reputation as one of the outstanding teachers of his generation; he left a lasting influence both at California and at Princeton. His book Science and the Common Understanding was published in 1954.

See I. I. Rabi et al., Oppenheimer (1969); J. Major, The Oppenheimer Hearing (1971); P. M. Stern and H. P. Green, The Oppenheimer Case (1971); P. Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds (1985); G. Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb (2002); J. Bernstein, Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma (2004); K. Bird and M. J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005); D. C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2005); P. J. McMillan, The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2005); R. Monk, Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center (2013).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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