Robert Oppenheimer may be remembered as “the father of the atomic bomb,” but he is also one of Judaism’s most enduring physicists.
Born in 1904 in New York City, Oppenheimer was interested in several areas of science as a young boy. He became particularly interested in chemistry prior to his high school graduation, before enrolling at Harvard to major in the field.
During his freshman year, he was elevated to graduate status in physics, thanks to an independent study initiative he took on himself. He graduated in three years, with a focus turned toward experimental physics.
Oppenheimer famously traveled Europe, furthering his experiments, then returned to the US in 1929 for a job at the University of California.
By the 1930s, Oppenheimer was increasingly interested in the process of separating uranium-235 from natural uranium, a technique previously unknown, and in developing a technique for determining the critical mass of uranium required to make the atomic bomb.
In 1943, he was appointed director of the Manhattan Project, an elite group of scientists working to develop the bomb before Nazi Germany achieved the same goal.
“We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world… a thing that by all the standards of the world we grew up in is an evil thing,” he said afterward.
“Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.”
Oppenheimer went on to act as chairman of the General Advisor Committee of the Atomic Energy Commission. He would grow to famously reject the idea of the Hydrogen bomb, having become uncomfortable with the disastrous affects of chemical warfare.
Oppenheimer married Katherine Harrison in 1939, and the couple had two children. He died on February 18, 1967, at the age of 62.