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Robert Oppenheimer

American physicist known as "the father of the atomic bomb". He did a brilliant job as the director of Los Alamos Laboratory, coordinating the contributions of many first-rate scientists. However, knowing the actual results in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he felt deep remorse, and after the war, he objected against the project of thermonuclear (super, or hydrogen) bomb, although he continued to occupy important public offices. In 1949, Soviet Union succeeded in a demostration of their first atomic bomb (Joe 1), and the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) asked its General Advisory Committee (GAC), headed by Oppenheimer, what to do. This GAC Report issued at the end of October concluded that the US should not begin the H-bomb project, and so advised the president; then a big debate began whether this policy was good or bad for the US. Despite the actual results contrary to this Report, its content is quite important for anyone interested in the problem of the scientist's obligations.

It is well known that he was expelled from all public offices in 1954, because of the alleged espionage, in the midst of McCarthyism. In this incident, former colleague Edward Teller (who was eager to promote the H-bomb project) played a very ugly role.

Since 1947 until 1966, Oppenheimer was the director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for 19 years; he invited Yukawa and Tomonaga to the Institute.

His case is still important when we consider the problem of the social responsibility of the scientist; we have to guard against such a stereotype view as that Oppenheimer was a foolish and immoral scientist whereas Leo Szilard was a wise and heroic scientist.

See also Nuclear physics timeline


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Last modified Dec. 11, 2008. (c) Soshichi Uchii