J. Robert Oppenheimer

CODEX Entry 5804: J. Robert Oppenheimer


A New York Jew, who was brilliant and obstinate, once offering an apple laced with chemicals to his professor in Cambridge, he suffered from periods of severe depression. He worked with another German Jew, Born, on the Born–Oppenheimer approximation, which separates nuclear motion from electronic motion in the mathematical treatment of molecules. In September 1942 General Groves selected Oppenheimer to head the Manahattan Project’s secret weapons laboratory. This was a surprising choice because Oppenheimer had left-wing political views and no record as a leader of large projects. However, he recognised Oppenheimer’s ability to accelerate science by simplifying complex issues, his strength in chemistry, physics, explosives and metallurgy, and his extremely competitive nature. Oppenheimer’s love of the New Mexico desert drove the selection of Los Alamos Ranch School as the base. The project grew to 6,000 personnel by July 1945 when the first nuclear explosion was achieved. Watching it, Oppenhiemer recalled a verse from the Bhagavad Gita: ‘If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one …’ He and many of the project staff were very upset about the bombing of Nagasaki, as they did not feel the second bomb was justified.