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The Atomic Mind: A Biography Of J. Robert Oppenheimer

The Atomic Mind

J. Robert Oppenheimer also worked as the director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University from 1947 to 1966. However, he faced allegations of disloyalty, leading to a government hearing that ultimately resulted in the revocation of his security clearance and his dismissal as a top advisor to the U.S. government. This case sparked widespread controversy and debate within the scientific community about the moral and political responsibilities of scientists in government positions. Let’s dive deep into the Life of Robert Oppenheimer to understand him better.

Early Life:

“The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer” began on April 22, 1904, in the bustling city of New York. Oppenheimer’s father was a German immigrant who made his fortune by trading textiles. His family was associated with the Ethical Culture Society. it’s a progressive organization rooted in American Reform Judaism and led by Dr. Felix Adler. This society placed a strong emphasis on civic responsibility, social justice, and secular humanism. Dr. Adler established the Ethical Culture School, where Oppenheimer enrolled in September 1911.

Even at an early age, Oppenheimer displayed exceptional academic abilities, studying minerals, physics, and chemistry by the age of 10. His correspondence with the New York Mineralogical Club was so advanced that the society invited him to give a lecture. However, society was unaware that Robert was merely a twelve-year-old boy.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
(J. Robert Oppenheimer)


Robert Oppenheimer Showed exceptional academic excellence from a young age in the field of physics. He graduated as a valedictorian in high school in 1921. However, due to an illness, his enrollment in Harvard was delayed and he spent the summer of 1922 at a ranch in New Mexico to rehabilitate. This experience had a profound impact on Oppenheimer, instilling in him a deep love for the desert high country. He Enrolled in Harvard in 1922, Upon his enrollment, he showed exceptional academic skills and graduated from Harvard within a period of three years with a wide variety of subjects under his belt. He majored in chemistry though.

His love for Physics induced him to work on Physics at Cavendish Lab in Cambridge, England. J. Robert Oppenheimer was working under the Mentorship of J.J Thomson. He soon realized that his interest was more in theoretical physics rather than experimental physics. He accepted an invitation from Max Born to study with him in Germany at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Gottingen.


The life of J. Robert Oppenheimer was greatly educational during his time in Europe. He was surrounded by some of the greatest minds in physics of his time who were making ground-breaking discoveries in quantum mechanics and Oppenheimer was fortunate enough to learn from them. In the year of 1927, Oppenheimer got his doctorate, and he was soon appointed as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology. During his time at Berkeley, he developed a good relationship with Ernest Lawrence, a prodigious Experimental physicist. He was the inventor of the cyclotron. Their friendship was so deep that Lawrence named his second son after Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer developed an interest in politics at the time when Adolf Hitler was rising as a force in Germany. In 1936, Oppenheimer supported the republic during the Spanish civil war and he became acquainted with communist students. However, his support for communism and anti-fascist groups fell following the devastating suffering inflicted by Joseph Stalin on Russian Scientists. He ultimately withdrew his associations with the communist party and chose to follow a liberal democratic philosophy.


War Efforts:

Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Wigner in 1939, cautioned the United States government about the potential threat to humanity if the Nazis succeeded in making a nuclear bomb. This Steered Oppenheimer to indulge in a process for the separation of uranium-235 from natural uranium and to determine the critical mass of uranium required to make such a bomb. In August 1942, The United States Military gave a task to Oppenheimer to establish and administer a lab to utilize nuclear energy for military purposes. The project ultimately became known as the “Manhattan Project,” bringing together American and British physicists. Oppenheimer selected the plateau of Los Alamos, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the site for the laboratory in 1943.

Oppenheimer had a dispute with military agents in 1942 over suspected Soviet spies, which led to a friend’s dismissal from the University of California. The first nuclear explosion was achieved in 1945 by US and British scientists at Los Alamos, causing Oppenheimer to quote the Bhagavad Gita with the famous line “I become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Germany surrendered the same year.

Later Years:

Oppenheimer resigned from his position in the very same year. After that, he became the head of the Institute for Advanced Study in 1947 and was appointed as chairman of the General Advisory Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission till 1952. In 1949 the committee opposed the development of the Hydrogen bomb. On being asked about his contribution to the making of the atomic bomb in 1954, he described it as a tissue of lies

The life of Robert Oppenheimer took a very dramatic turn the year of 1953, as he was accused of association with the communists, delaying naming the soviet agents, and not favoring the hydrogen bomb. The courts declared that he was not guilty of any of the acquisitions of treason, however, he lost his security clearance and his employment as an advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission. The Federation of American scientists opposed the Us government and protested against the trial, defending Oppenheimer as he was being witch-hunted. Oppenheimer spent his later years exploring and working for science and society. He ultimately died in 1967 in New Jersey after suffering from throat cancer.

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Disclaimer:- Views expressed are the author’s own.

Frequently Asked Question

Why did Oppenheimer read Bhagavad Gita?

Oppenheimer was born and brought up in Jewish and deeply influenced by Bhagavad Gita. His brother quoted that he found Bhagavad Gita to be very easy and marvelous. He went even further to claim that  “access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries”

Why did Oppenheimer say now I become dead?

After witnessing the destruction that the bombs can do. He quoted a phrase from the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. It means that he has become death the destroyer of the worlds

What happened to Oppenheimer after the atomic bomb?

In 1953, Oppenheimer faced accusation of communist ties and lost his job, but he was ultimately cleared from the charges. He continued working for science until his death in 1967.

How did Oppenheimer die?

Oppenheimer died of Throat cancer at the age of 62 in 1967.

Did Oppenheimer regret the atomic bomb?

Yes, he did regret his discovery, he even opposed it.

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