Researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University joined the chorus of moviegoers who enjoyed and appreciated the Universal film. Oppenheimer.
“I think the film is excellent,” said Limor Joshua-Tor, a professor and HHMI researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It made me think, which is always a good sign.”
Yusuf Hannun, associate dean of oncology medicine at Stony Brook University, called the film “amazing” and expected it to be “more straightforward.”
Jeff Keister, director of the NSLS-II detector and research equipment group at Brookhaven National Laboratory, described the film as “interesting” and “well acted.”
Joshua-Thor said she knows nothing about Robert Oppenheimer, the protagonist and leader of the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb. She “learned a lot about him,” she wrote. “I knew he was a victim of McCarthyism, but I didn’t understand how it happened or the details.”
Keister also knew little about Oppenheimer, who was played in the film by actor Cillian Murphy. “Oppenheimer seemed to be quietly struggling with finding his role in the history of the atomic bomb,” Keister said. “Sometimes he would wear the uniform and then seem to express regret.”
Like other researchers, especially those involved in large projects that brought together people with different skills and different cultural backgrounds, Oppenheimer led a diverse team of scientists under the heightened tensions of World War II.
Oppenheimer “was shown to have gained an extremely influential position and to be able to assemble a relatively diverse team, although he was unable to attract all the brightest minds to his side,” Keister wrote.
Joshua-Thor suggested that Oppenheimer “charmed” other scientists who were so passionate about the science and purpose that they “accepted” him. The team leader must be a great scientist, but not necessarily the greatest genius. There is genius in herding cats properly.”
Joel Hurowitz, assistant professor of geosciences at Stony Brook University, “loved the film.” As part of his research efforts, Hurowitz has worked on major projects with NASA teams.
Hurowitz suggested that the job of coordinating these large projects is “enormous” and requires “a well-designed organizational structure, effective leadership and a team that is happy to work hard toward a common goal.”
‘Stunning’ first bomb test
Keister called the film’s first nuclear bomb test “amazing.” “I have to wonder why the environmental and health impacts of such a test were not significant.”
Some local scientists would appreciate the opportunity to see more of the scientific advances that led to the bomb.
Science is “the one place where the movie failed,” Hannan said. “They could have spent a little more time pointing out the basic science behind the project and perhaps a little more on the scientific accomplishments of the various participants.”
Given the film’s emphasis on Oppenheimer and his leadership, and the extreme ambivalence towards the creation of the atomic bomb, Keister suggested that scientists “could be better encouraged to understand the implications of the application of new discoveries. Scientists can learn to expand their perspective to include means to mitigate potential negative consequences.”
Research funders, including taxpayers and their representatives, have an “ethical responsibility to consider scientists’ views of all implications in their decisions regarding the application and adoption of new technologies,” Keister said.
Joshua-Tor believes that “there should always be an ongoing dialogue between scientists and citizens,” which should be “an informed, somewhat unbiased conversation.”
Recommended films about scientists
Local researchers also shared some recommendations for films about scientists.
Hurowitz wrote that his favorite these days is Arrival, a science fiction film starring Amy Adams. If Hurowitz is looking for a more light-hearted meal, he writes that “you can’t go wrong with Ghostbusters,Although he is not sure that the main characters Egon, Ray and Peter can be called scientists.
Keister also enjoys science fiction because it “often presents us with ethical dilemmas that need to be resolved.” While he’s not sure he has a favorite movie, he recommended a sci-fi thriller. Former car Alicia Vikander plays a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence in the title role.
Joshua-Thor recalls liking the film Beautiful mind starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash. She liked the movie too Hidden figuresstarring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.