S. Government during the McCarthy Trials. He opposed the idea of stockpiling nuclear weapons and was deemed a security risk. Oppenheimer’s life reveals the conflict between war, science and how politics collided in the 1940’s through the 1960’s.
His case became a cause ;celebre; in the world of science because of its implications concerning political and moral issues relating to the role of scientists in government. Oppenheimer, the son of German immigrants, who had made their fortune in textiles, had the resources available in his family to further his education at a young age. At age ten Oppenheimer’s grandfather brought him some rocks to identify and as a result Oppenheimer became very interested in geology. This led him to study other sciences at a young age. By age six he had the vocabulary of an adult.
He could speak well and understood the meanings of the words and where they came from. He excelled in mathematics and was computing numbers at a high school rate while in the second grade. People referred to him as a boy genius. Oppenheimer was from a Jewish family who did not believe in the Orthodox ways.
They had no temple affiliation, but did attend the Felix Alder Ethical School during grade school until high school. This school shaped many of Oppenheimer’s ideas regarding morality and political views that would later affect his life. He studied at Harvard and was good in the classics, such as Latin, Greek, chemistry and Physics. He had published works in poetry and studied Oriental philosophy. He graduated in 1925, it took him only three years, and went to England to do research at Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. He didn’t like it there and left at the end of 1925.
A man named Max Born asked him to attend Gottingen University where he met prominent European physicists. Oppenheimer studied quantum mechanics in Europe in the 1920s. He learned from Ernest Rutherford, one of the pioneers of atomic theory; and from Werner Heisenberg and Paul Dirac, pioneers of quantum mechanics. He received his doctorate in physics while in Europe.
He and Max Born developed the “Born-Oppenheimer Method”. The Born-Oppenheimer Approximation states that since nuclear motion is much slower than electron motion the electronic wavefunction, or energies, can be calculated assuming a fixed position of the nuclei and nuclear motion can be considered assuming and average distribution of electron density. On returning to the US, Oppenheimer pursued his study of Dirac’s theory of the electron – proposing the existence of an anti-electron (equal in charge but positively, not negatively, charged) – a ;positron;, first seen by Carl Anderson in 1932. During the 1930s, Oppenheimer held positions at both the University of California, Berkeley and at the California Institute of Technology, enabling him to gather together a team of highly talented, young theoretical physicists. Berkley was known as the center of American Quantum Physicists at the time, because of Oppenheimer’s work. In 1939 he took quantum mechanics into astronomy, proposing that the largest stars could collapse into "black holes" from which not even light could escape.
In the early twenties new scientific theory about the atomic structures was being discovered. He worked on quantum theory and trained an entire generation of United States born physicists. His method of teaching was very difficult and most students failed his classes, but they still took them and eventually passed them. He became interested with politics during the rise of Nazism in Germany in 1936, and he was also concerned over the Great Depression in the U. S.
He sided with Spain in their civil war and became friends with many communists as a result of this. His brother, Frank oddly enough was a communist. Oppenheimer organized anti-Fascist organizations and was a known communist, but didn’t officially join the communist party. Do to Stalin’s influence .